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I just passed a masked colleague in the hallway off my office and asked how spring break treated her. She said, “Fun, but with navigating the pandemic and hosting some family, I need a vacation from the vacation. I think I’m going to take a PTO day to just clear my clutter and get reorganized.”
I paused because I know her well and asked, “Will you actually take a day?” She looked at me, made a face I can only describe as aghast and said, “Of course not. I just couldn’t!” And she meant it.
Why is it such a foreign thought to take a day, or even a few hours, to unclutter, realign and get centered before attacking work, a project or the “next thing”?
The profoundness of the question hit me as I recognized, her reaction was normal, especially in the good ol’ USA. Many of us have been built to believe that taking time to do what might be considered trivial or even chore-like would never warrant a day away from the office; away from what we ‘get compensated’ to do.
Related: Albert Einstein’s Messy Desk Highlights The Surprising Link Between Clutter And Intelligence
I thought of the quote which may or may not have been said by Abraham Lincoln, “If I have eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d take the first seven to sharpen the saw.” A lot of us see the tree and get to chopping; this takes us longer, makes the chore harder and we feel less successful after the tree has been cut.
Our jobs are filled with deliverables and tasks and objectives. This is a constant. At the same time, our personal lives are filled with the same. There’s no such thing anymore as work/life balance – there’s just life. To find success within all of it, we need to be ok with shifting our perspective around what it takes to be our best; and sometimes what it takes is giving yourself permission to stop and sharpen your saw.
What happens when we stop and take time to center, refocus and get organized; to clear both your space and your mind?
When we consciously step away from the norm to align and organize, we are affected positively – both psychologically and physiologically. By dealing with clutter, reorganizing or completing an unpleasant/mundane task, we remove the cortisol-induced stress these things cause us. They are no longer looming and following us like shadows; we feel lighter.
Moreover, removing the invisible ties that mentally bind you elsewhere allows you to focus your energy on important tasks and actions needed to elevate personally and professionally. These ties can be personal ones – for my colleague it meant the literal cleaning of her home after her house guests left. For some it could be managing a loved one’s paperwork, making a new to-do list for work for a project, collecting and donating your children’s old clothes or even uncluttering mentally by meditating.
Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting
Whatever your ‘clutter’ is, it’s real, and you’re allowed and even encouraged to take time to feel in control of it. That said, here is your challenge. Take one day each month to tackle whatever task that needs to be done that will allow you to feel focused, calm, clear and organized. Whether it’s personal or professional, take just one day and strive for the feeling of accomplishment, at ease and even in control. I dare you.
For some, your immediate reaction may be, “I can’t do it. There’s just too much to do.” Or, “I’m too needed to not be available.” The truth, which is not meant to offend, but rather to provide tension relief, is that you will not be missed. It’s one day. There’s freedom in knowing you can put yourself first because you’ll be back in a short time even stronger, and now is the time. By uncluttering and putting the preverbal oxygen mask on yourself, you’ll ultimately be better served to help others when you’re back in the saddle.
Related: Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein Applied the Concept of ‘No Time’ to Boost Their Creativity. What Does It Entail?
Taking one day a month, or even a few hours during the month, to complete tasks that are considered necessary but not urgent is critical for self-care; and there’s plenty of research on why removing clutter and feeling organized is good for your health.
It absolutely doesn’t matter what your clutter looks like; you won’t be judged for it and quite frankly, no one needs to know your details. The critical point is, it’s your clutter and it’s real. By handling it, you (and possibly others in your life) will be a better you for it.