A chaotic environment makes it hard to perform at your best and can be a significant drain on your time and energy. Look around your space. Do you have piles everywhere? An overflowing inbox no matter how often you try to empty it? A boatload of email competing for your attention?
Consider this: Piles represent postponed decision making. It isn’t a question of being organized or adopting a specific process. Delayed decision making creates the feeling that you’re constantly behind, and ultimately that perception can become self-fulfilling.
High achievers often end up holding on to absolutely everything. Be brutal with your decision making. To take control of your immediate environment, you need the mental and emotional strength to set strong boundaries. Organizing experts say there are just four things you can do with information: act on it, file it, delegate it, or toss it.
First, reduce the amount of information coming in. Make sure you are cc’d only on critical emails. Contact the sender or meeting organizer and ask to be removed. It’s work in the short term but ultimately you’ll reduce the volume coming in.
Make quick decisions on information. Quickly sort through it and throw out or remove anything that does not support you in your work or goals. For existing piles in your office, work on reducing them. Schedule time to deal with each piece of paper you come across. If you’re stumped, give yourself a “free pass” once. If you don’t know what you want to do with it when you see it again, toss it—it’s just taking up your time/energy. These piles will take time to address but once you do, you will immediately feel a sense of control.
Traveling presents a unique challenge because not only does information continue to come in while you’re away, but you’re also exposed to new information you may want to retain from conventions and client meetings. Label items with post-its as you pick them up so when you return, you’ll know what to do. Or sort them into themes and clip things together. Whatever works for you is fine—just have a plan to handle the information you’re gathering.
Your time is valuable; make sure whatever is claiming your focus is worth the tradeoff.