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Escaping The Clutter Trap? - 5 Steps For Increasing Productivity And Decreasing Stress

? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the "stuff" in your life? Magazines and journals you've never finished reading, clothes you never wear, e-mail you haven't responded to, or photographs you intended to share with friends or colleagues? ? Are you embarrassed to invite people to your home or office because they will see the way you live or work? Do you rush around when someone's coming to hide the evidence?

? Is clutter putting a strain on a relationship that's important to you? Do you argue with your spouse about what to keep, or spend time reassuring your colleagues that you know what everything is?

? Do you waste time looking for things you really need ? documents you already created, or the keys or receipt you had in your hand five minutes ago?

? Is your home or office just too crowded? Does clutter take valuable space and leave you feeling overwhelmed? If you answered "Yes" to any two or more of these questions, you are caught in The Clutter Trap ? a state of cumulative disorder which diminishes your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or financial health. There are more than a few people reading this article right now who are feeling distressed by the clutter in their lives. There are more than a few whose relationships are drained by arguments about clutter. There are more than a few who would panic at a letter from the IRS announcing an audit. "But wait," you may be saying.

? "Isn't clutter the inevitable condition of living in a complex world with never enough time, never enough space. Always too much to be responsible for?"

? Or maybe you're saying, "I'm creative, and creative people are just naturally messy."

? Or "I've got more important things to do than worry about clutter."

Here's the truth! Clutter is NOT inevitable. It is NOT synonymous with creativity. It is NOT a precondition to life on earth in this time. You arrived on earth without clutter and you will certainly leave without clutter. The question is how you live in between!

Let's put it another way: To know if you are organized, ask three questions:

1. Does it work?
2. Do you like it?
3. Does it work for others?

Most people answer "Yes" to the first question, hesitate on the second, and will admit the answer to the third is "No," ? but rationalize by saying it doesn't really make any difference. But does it? What will be the results if something happens to you, or to one of the people in your organization? In reality clutter, and the resulting inability to find the right information at the right time, can, and often does, have a negative impact on everyone who lives or work in that environment.

Our mission is to assist individuals, families, and organizations to create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. What is a "Productive Environment?" Think of this way: It's an environment in which everything supports who you are or who you want to be. The more clutter, the less likely you, or the people around you, will be able to find what they need effortlessly. We've developed a program called The Productivity QuickStart? which guarantees a ten percent increase in productivity, based on the premise that your ability to accomplish any task or goal is directly related to ability to find the right thing at the right time.

During the past 25 years, we've distilled a five-step process you can use to create and sustain a productive environment which we call The Productive Environment Solution?:

1. Design your vision.
2. Eliminate your excuses.
3. Commit your time.
4. Select your tools.
5. Maintain your success.

Notice the common word in those five steps? "Your!" The key to escaping the clutter trap and creating a productive environment is linked to discovering and implementing what works for YOU ? not what worked for your mother, or what your colleague thinks you should do. In other words, "organizing is an art!" Design your vision

Have you ever noticed how much you seem not to notice about your everyday environment? Look around your office and you're likely to "see" many things that have become invisible to you on a daily basis because you trained yourself not to look at them.

Clutter is postponed decisions?. The first step to creating a productive environment is to decide what you need to foster your best and highest experience. It is impossible to even define our own clutter if we do not hold a clear picture of who we are, or what we are about.

A photographer had on-going dreams about living in a white tower with glass windows, while her real home was buried in clutter accumulated over 30+ years. When we focused on her love of the arts, letting go of the unsightly clutter became less painful, and even freeing.

Eliminate your excuses

Banish all temptation to blame the condition of your surroundings on circumstances or people around you. "I don't have enough space" often proves to be inaccurate after one of our office clean-out days. Choose to work with what you've got.

A book agent discussing the idea of a book on the subject of clutter commented, "Some of us are just slobs." Only if you want to be. Creating a pleasing and productive environment requires a process. If you honor the process, you will succeed. While it's impossible to force someone else to eliminate clutter, we've never met anyone who couldn't get rid of their own.

Commit your time

Recognize that the time you invest in creating and sustaining a productive environment will pay returns every single day of your life in your personal and professional life.

One association executive recalls arriving at work every day for five years chastising himself because there was no room in his office to hold a meeting. Finally, in desperation, he hired an organizing consultant to help. In six hours, the boxes he'd paid to move to three different offices were replaced with a small conference table.

"How long is this going to take and how much is it going to cost?" is the first question asked by potential clients. The answer: "The longer you wait, the longer it's going to take and the more it's going to cost."

Select your tools

Find the perfect equipment to match your style of operating and arrange it efficiently and aesthetically. Barbara's father often told her "half of any job is having the right tool." Of course, he really meant, "using the right tools." Many people, for example, fail to invest the time or get the training to use the organizing tools that already exist on every computer.

One client had Post-it? notes stuck all over her office to remind her of places to go and things to do. She swore that she could never use a calendar. "I just hate those ruled lines and the thought that every hour of every day needs to be so structured." We found a unique calendar with a red leather cover and lots of open space on the pages. Within three weeks she called to say she didn't know how she had gotten along without it. "It doesn't control me ? I control it!" She'll never convert to a Palm Pilot, but she finally found the tool she could love. What you love, you will use. What you use, streamlines your life and work.

Maintain your success

A major excuse for not getting organized is "It never lasts anyway!" Here's good news. Once you accomplish the first four steps, maintaining your success is not difficult.

Remember those three questions earlier in this article? Does it work? Does you like it? Does it work for everyone? This ever- changing world requires asking those questions frequently. If the answer is "No," it doesn't mean what you did in the past was wrong. The situation has just changed. This five-step process is most powerful when it becomes a way of life.

Do you have difficulty getting rid of clutter? How much of your clutter is there because "It might be useful someday.!" Several years ago, a colleague made a statement that influenced our work today significantly: "Sometimes overresponsibility becomes irresponsibility." How much could that unused furniture or equipment benefit a nearby school or a community service group? What about that cane from your broken ankle eight years ago? What about that flute nobody has played for thirty years? It's much easier to let go of something when you know someone else will benefit.

How often we hear "But my real problem is other people's clutter! How do I change them?" One client complained, "At work people give me stuff I have to keep. I don't have a choice, and at home, other people's stuff drives me crazy."

The shortest path to frustration and failure is trying to change other people. Your most powerful path to sustained success is to start with yourself, and let those around you be affected by observing your increasing calm, focus, and productivity. If all your tactics of the past have failed, perhaps it's time to try a new approach. Tell yourself a new story about the amazing level of power and control you have over one person in the universe ? you. Say to yourself "I don't allow anything to rob me of my freedom to create the results I want in my life." In other words, change what you can (you). Accept what you cannot change (everyone else), and waste no energy fighting the difference. Through the years, we have discovered an interesting phenomenon. Emotional loss, such as the death of someone close, loss of a dream, or frequent loss of physical belongings, can often impact people's desire to hold onto physical things. One woman who had been fighting with her husband over his clutter for years got dramatic results when she told him, "You know, I never really understood how much you want to keep all this stuff. Let's figure out how we can keep it." She came a few days later to find the garage filled with boxes he was donating to a local thrift store.

Very few people are truly impervious to their environment. Most of us just pretend we are. We make promises to take care of the clutter later. In the meantime, we walk around as incomplete, diminished versions of the fully resourceful, fully generous people we could be. The world needs the best you have to give and if your best is smothered in clutter, we all lose. It's a great campaign. We're all in it together. Good luck.

Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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