Everyone has their own definition of clutter. To many, clutter constitutes large amounts of “stuff” piling up in a space which should not usually contain so much of said “stuff”. While focussing on day to day tasks, I’ve noticed that there are several areas of my day to day which have high potential for clutter. When these areas are cluttered, I feel like my focus shifts and isn’t as sharp as it could be. Today, I’d like to help reform our views on what creates mental clutter, and how to overcome this and achieve laser-like focus.
The labels list in Gmail
If you use Gmail, like a large portion of the world, you no doubt have stacks of labels you use to sort through your email. It occurred to me that, while I use labels to categorise email, I don’t need to see all of my labels down the left side of the Gmail window. Upon visiting the Labels settings in Gmail, I switched all labels, except for “Follow Up”, to be “show if unread”. This shows the label only if there are unread emails within it, removing the constant “clutter” of labels.
“Follow Up” email label in Gmail
I use the “Follow Up” email religiously. This ensures I don’t miss out on an email conversation which may require my attention in due course, or is of importance. While perhaps there are other methods of achieving this, Gmail’s “Priority” setting doesn’t work for me, as it tries to be too smart for it’s own good. This issue with using the “Follow Up” label is, it becomes redundant if left unattended. Once the above email label clutter is removed, this ensures I can focus on attending to the “Follow Up” label. I aim to clear any no-longer-relevant email conversations from this label every few weeks. I don’t often have to pester folks over email, yet this label provides a neat overview of pestering opportunities, should I wish to pester anyone about a particular conversation we were having.
I’ll keep this one short, as we all know the perils of a full inbox (and I’ve written about managing email). If an item requires an action, mark it as “Follow Up” and add the action to your to do list. Then archive. If an email requires no action, label it and archive.
Browser Bookmarks and Open Tabs
I spent an hour or two the other day cleaning and organising my browser bookmarks. I made excessive use of the “Bookmarks Bar”, which created visual chaos. As I spend most of my day in my web browser, clearing this into folders has made the world of difference to my visual stimulus. Add to this open browser tabs. Keep these to a minimum as best you can. We’re all guilty of opening a browser tab and leaving it there “to attend to later”… which never happens until we absolutely have to. Our browser then crashes and we (sometimes) lose our open tabs. Smart move, skippy.
To Do List
Set yourself a cap and make sure you don’t have more than that number of items on your to do list at a given time. Moving an email from your inbox to your to do list doesn’t get the task done. At the same time, neither does leaving the email in your inbox.
My cap is 5 items per to do list (work, personal).
Habits in Coach.me
Forming habits is extremely important. It can take up to 21 days of routine repetition to form a new habit. Attempting to form too many habits, on the other hand, can have the opposite of the desired affect. Set a cap on how many habits you want to focus on at a given time, and archive the rest. I use Coach.me daily to focus on key habits such as exercise, stretching and writing. I have a set of 5 to 10 habits which I focus on at any given time. I go through this from time to time and archive habits which are less critical than the top 5.
This thought process began based on an “Unclutter” item I have within Coach.me. While this is a very general label, I defined “uncluttering” for myself as being “the process of removing roadblocks which impede free-flowing thought and action”. This can mean cleaning out that pesky shelf, removing unused items from my desk or clearing out long-term items on my to do list.
Define what clutter looks like, to you, and remove it.