Okay, it’s a few days into the new year and, unless you are a very unusual specimen, you’re still faced with lots of clutter from last year

Let’s clear the decks for this new year. Stop dragging around the un-done, the un-answered, the un-filed papers, bytes, and thoughts that clog up your mental RAM.

I am not suggesting a wholesale trashing and/or burning of anything lying around. I understand that might provoke more anxiety than it would allay.

But I am suggesting that some clean space, real and virtual, will make you more productive and happier. So take a few minutes before the end of the week and try my tips for getting your most cluttered spaces cleared.


Do you use your inbox as a reminder list of what to do? Do you let messages lie in your inbox until you get around to answering or disposing of them? And then, do you find that there are dozens – or hundreds – of messages that don’t get disposed of. They lie in there in your inbox, reminding your of things not done, or of mailing list items not read. It’s very draining.

To get your energy back, create a folder or mailbox in your email program, then drag everything from 2015 (and earlier) into it. You can label this folder/mailbox “2015 Inbox” or “Archive”. The messages are still safe on your machine, ready to be found if needed, but they are not cluttering up your visual field or your thoughts. (Gmail users, you have it easy. Select all messages from 2015 and prior and click on “Archive”. Done.)

Follow this with a resolution to keep your inbox as empty as possible. Reply to messages, or act on them, as soon as possible, then drag them to another new folder labeled “2016 Inbox,” “Archive,” or whatever works for you.

Some productivity folks recommend you create a folder/mailbox called “Action” for current messages requiring follow up. I tried that, and since messages were out of sight, they were also out of mind. It may work for you, though.

The Desk

Okay, quick: estimate the number of feet of the piles of papers on your desk. Then identify the number of inches of paper you will actually need to touch in the next week, or next month. The remainder should go into a box marked “Desktop papers, 2015”.  Put the box in an accessible location but someplace not in the way. Dust the new-found space on your desk. Enjoy.

Notice I did not say this stuff should be filed. This is because we both know that at least 80% of what gets filed never gets looked at again.

If you have grant-related papers, organizationally critical things, or the only copy in the world of a document, then you may wish to file it properly. Most of what’s on the desk, however, is copies of something available in your “archive” file in your email, or by asking someone else.

If you cannot NOT have things filed, then get an intern or hire a college student to come in for a while and make the mess go into the proper folders in the proper drawers. It simply is not an efficient use of your time to file things. Lots of people can file. You have other skills, and responsibilities, that nobody else has. Tend to those. Delegate the rest.

Credenza, chair, briefcase, car seat — or other places where paper accumulates

See “Desk” tip, above. Label boxes accordingly.

The point of these tips is not to make you into a productivity freak, or turn your office into a Zen space. (Though if you want a Zen space, rock on, and please send a picture.)

The point is to help you LET GO.

Cluttered space creates and reinforces feelings of chaos.

Let go of the chaos. Clear the decks.

What deck-clearing strategies have you tried? What’s worked the best? Let me know by email, at coach[AT]alexcarter.com.

I’m Taking New Clients

I have a couple of openings in my schedule for new coaching clients. If you are a nonprofit leader, or trying to become one, and would like to develop your leadership from a strengths-based perspective, drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com and we’ll talk about how we can work together to make you the leader you’ve always wanted to be.