Your ability to be personally and financially successful is dependent on how many things you get done that “move you forward.” The focus of this article is to understand the effect of the indirect inputs (distractions) that may be affecting your ability to do this and what you can do about it – in essence getting more done by doing less.
In many ways, our ability to accomplish tasks and to do them well is affected by the number of direct (related to the task) and indirect (distractions) that we have to deal with. A somewhat technical way of saying this is that your level of output, what you are able to do and do well, is a function of the number of inputs that are affecting you.
A simple way of sensing this is to relate what happens to your computer as it tries to process a number of requests (inputs). Try loading Word, Excel, a browser window, and your email program while downloading a 300 megabyte file and trying to defrag your hard drive. Anybody who has done more than just turning on a computer knows this will slow things down…and worse case can cause the computer to crash. Sometimes when my computer becomes perpetually bogged down, I have to shut it down and restart it, you have probably had similar experiences.
The Obstacle Course
Maybe you haven’t run a real obstacle course, but I am sure you have tried to quickly walk through a crowd to get some place you needed to be at or have had a similar experience when there is a lot of traffic. An obstacle course intentionally puts clutter in your path that you have to deal with. So what you ask? First it slows you down, second you have deal with all the interactions, third you have to make more decisions and finally it can become frustrating as the apparent chaos of the situation approaches overwhelming.
A major obstacle course in our lives can be the effect of clutter. Clutter is an ongoing distraction, whether you know it exists or not. It is an input to your daily processing that must be dealt with. And most do not recognize or know of its affect on our ability to get things done. Have any of the following ever happened to you:
1. You can’t find your car keys amid the many things on your counter or desk?
2. You have to push things around to set something down?
3. You can’t get to the sofa without tripping over the kids toys?
4. You freqently have troupble finding the remote control for the TV?
Time and Attention
There’s no question, having to function in an environment similar to the above takes more time and more of your valuable attention away from doing something more important in your daily life. Clutter or visual noise messes with your mind, changing your attitude and the quality of what you do. Add this up day after day and it will decrease your ultimate level of success. Further complicating the situation, it causes stress. When you are experiencing stress, even small amounts, your brain emits a hormone called cortisol which acts to short-circuit it leading to forgetfulness, irritation, anger and even meltdowns.
Maybe at your level of clutter it’s just a bit of an irritation, even so it’s affecting your output. But here is what usually happens: These situations start causing more and more distracting inputs than what can be effectively managed at one time, similar to the computer example. And it can become a vicious circle if it is not controlled. It starts with a little disorder, then a little more and then can lead to frustration and stress… and quite possibly procrastination. Left further unchecked this perpetuates life into the worst of obstacle courses, a state of chaos. At a minimum it causes you to lose focus on what really moves you forward in your life.
A way of Life
It’s not just your house, desk, car, garage, place of work that can get cluttered. It becomes a way of life, a sort of habit. If this starts to happen, your life and even your mind can become so overcrowded that your productivity, your ability to get things done, is reduced by more than 50%! Maybe it’s time for a “shut down and restart!” The following are some ideas to help you reduce your obstacle course effects, allowing you to do more by actually doing less. Choose just one that would bring you the most benefit to start with, gain some success with it and then move to the next most beneficial item.
Clear the Physical Clutter
Start by focusing on one area. Maybe it’s the laundry room, the junk drawer in the kitchen or the piles of kid’s toys. Take a hard look at what you’ve accumulated. Clear out any items you’re not using. If they’re in good condition, consider selling them or donating them to a local charity. If you absolutely can’t part with some items, box them up and put an expiration date of a year in the future on the box. Store the box. If the box remains unopened until the expiration date, you clearly can do without its contents. Sell, trash
or donate all of the items.
Clear the Audiovisual Clutter
Being flooded with audiovisual inputs, even news or entertaining inputs is a tremendous source of distraction. For example; cable news repeats and repeats and the news is usually not very positive. Just having a TV or radio on takes some of your attention, whether you know it or not, and decreases your ability to process more important things. Cell phones, laptops, video games — they all contribute to audiovisual clutter. Unplug and unhook
yourself, try a vacation from the TV news, the daily paper and news magazines. You
will find you have more time, likely a more positive attitude and you will be getting more of what you want to get done – done. It can take a couple of weeks to adjust but it can be become a more permanent and rewarding vacation.
Clear the Activities Clutter
Being too busy doing things that are not moving you forward in life can become a habit so entrenched that it leads you to postpone or cut short what really matters to you, making you a slave to a lifestyle you would not choose given a choice. You may have so much going on that you don’t have time to assess what matters most to you, let alone make time to do it.
Start by thinking about what you are doing as you start to do it. Say yes only to activities that really matter and no to all those other unimportant things. Start doing less by removing the clutter in your life. Use this time to help accomplish some of the other de-cluttering efforts and utlimately more of the important things in your life. Think about how pleasant it will be to shed all those unimportant activities and what that will do for your ability to focus on what’s important, things that will be moving your life forward towards more success.