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Five Ways to Clear the Decks

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I’m a little late writing this post this morning because I’ve spent the past 45 minutes clearing the decks.

When I sat down at my desk this morning, it looked like it had been through a hurricane. I’ve got lots of reasons (excuses) for that. I’ve been away on business a lot this past month, we have multiple projects underway, there have been deadlines to hit for clients and, finally, we’ve had a ton (that’s probably a literal word) of stuff to sort through that’s come back into the house following a fire in our storage units last year.

The effect of all of that is that stuff has just been thrown on my desk by me and others in my family for weeks as the incoming exceeded our capacity to generate the outgoing. When I sat down this morning, I knew something had to give. The mini-mountains of clutter were distracting, demoralizing and draining my focus. I could either try to keep ignoring them or I could remove them. I chose the latter and, wow, do I feel better.

My guess is that I’m not the only one who faced a cluttered desk at the beginning of the day. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that a cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind. When you see all of those piles you can’t help but wonder what’s lurking in there that’s overdue, almost due or waiting to surprise you in some way. If you want to think clearly for the rest of the week, it’s worth taking 15, 30 or 45 minutes to clear your desk.

Here are five things I did this morning that helped me clear the decks for the week ahead:

Act on the little things -- As I dove into the piles, I found some things that I could act on within two minutes or less and get them out of the way to never worry about again. The most significant today was the annual registration renewal notice from the DMV. It took one minute to fill out the form, write the check for $287 and stick the envelope in the outgoing mail. So much better than missing the May 2 deadline and paying $326! If you can act on something in a couple of minutes and get it out of the way, do it. You’ll feel better immediately.

Put things in their place – There was an amazing amount of weird little things on my desk this morning – international power adapters, a little travel toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, my passport, books, magazines, etc. It took me about 10 minutes to put everything in it’s rightful place. Totally worth it.

Sort the papers – And then, of course, there are all the loose papers and files from projects, presentations and conversations lurking in the stacks. It really didn’t take that much time to sort the papers and get them into the right file folders. Bonus: now I know where they are!

Recycle the trash – Are you amazed, as I am, by how quickly you can end up with piles of solicitations and offers that clutter your workspace? Even in an electronic age, there is still an enormous amount of direct mail. Just about all of that went into recycling this morning. It can feel like a waste of time to sort through all of that stuff you didn’t ask for in the first place, but the alternative is worse. It’s way too distracting to have it laying around.

Shred the confidentials – If you don’t have a shredder by your desk, get one. I fed a lot of credit card application forms and drafts of proposals for clients into mine this morning. There are a lot of things that cross your desk that you’d rather not have someone rooting through your trash to find. Shred them, then recycle the confetti. It’s almost festive and removes another source of worry from your mind.

So, that’s how I cleared the decks to get ready for my week this morning. Of course, none of that even covers clearing the decks in your email inbox or calendar. Good subjects for other posts! In the meantime, what are your best tips for clearing the decks? What difference does it make for you to clear them?

(Image via bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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