In my paper clutter world are magazines, training manuals, binders full of writer’s magazine clips, saved recipes, greeting cards, and financial and medical records, just to name a few.
Add to that the electronic clutter – folders of “read-later” e-mails, blog drafts, unfiled e-mails dating back to 2011 (one with advice on information overload!), writing ideas, and webinar PDFs.
It’s enough to make me want to pack it all in a box and toss it without looking – or, in the case of e-mail, selecting “All” and clicking on “Delete.” The trouble is, in all that stuff are things I need to take care of.
Here are some of the reasons we tend to hang on to information clutter. If you identify with them, maybe the following suggestions will help you leave the clutter beast behind.
1. Not knowing where to start. Start with the pile that bugs you the most or the one that most often interferes with your productivity.
Or start with the smallest pile. Getting rid of it will give you the satisfaction and encouragement to start on a bigger one. If you’re tackling unread e-mails, deal with a month’s worth of them. Tomorrow, deal with another month.
2. Indecision. Ask yourself: What are the legal consequences if I throw it out? Has it served its purpose? When I want this information, am I likely to look in my files for it, or will I search the Internet? Now toss or delete it or file it where you’d look for it.
If you’re in doubt, put it in a box or folder and mark it with a date. If you haven’t used it in a year, trash the box or folder without opening it.
3. Being overwhelmed. Set a timer for 30 minutes, then quit. You’ll be amazed at the progress you make when you know you have a limited amount of time.
4. More information coming in than going out. Take 5 minutes and use the criteria in No. 2 before it piles on your desk or inbox. Don’t subscribe to magazines or blogs you don’t have time to read.
5. Sentimentality. Save messages from special people in a folder called “My Sentimental Journey.” Resist the temptation to re-read them all now.
6. Being a compulsive “finisher.” If you can’t throw out even an old newspaper unless you’ve read it cover to cover, pretend you’ve never subscribed to it. Or pretend you’re on vacation. You miss – and don’t miss – all kinds of news when you’re away from home. Then close your eyes and toss – no regrets.
For me, information clutter is a source of stress – an obstacle to success, a drain on energy and creativity. How does it affect you? Care to share some of your tips for clearing clutter?