Creating a Life Free From Chaos

7 Choices to Make Now to Simplify Your Life

Simplifying can be overwhelming, but the good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. Actually, it’s more likely to “stick” if you take it slowly and deliberately. Streamlining your habits one or two at a time can make a big difference. Here are seven choices you can make that can simplify your life. Choose one or two to try this week.

  1. Drop one commitment. Think about all the things in your life that you’re obligated to do and try to find one you can let go. Is there something you dread doing? Something that takes up time but doesn’t give you much value in return? Decide today to drop that commitment. Make a phone call or send an email, and let the appropriate people know that you need to stop. You’ll feel relieved, and you’ll free up some time and energy for something that’s more important to you.
  2. Purge something. Just one small area. Not a room or the house or even a whole closet. Pick one small space that’s bothering you. Here’s how to purge: 1) Empty everything from the drawer/shelf/corner into a pile. 2) From this pile, pick out only the most important things, the stuff you use and love. 3) Get rid of the rest. Right now. Trash it, or put it in your car to give away or donate. 4) Put the stuff you love and use back, in a neat and orderly manner. 5) Celebrate.
  3. Simplify your to-do list. If your daily to-do list is more than 10 items long, you can probably cut it down it a bit. Try to find a few tasks that can be eliminated, delegated or automated. Shorten the list. You don’t have to do everything now. Try out my To-Do List downloadable worksheet to organize your tasks daily, one week at a time.
  4. Clear your desk. If your desk is covered with papers, notes, gadgets and office supplies, you need to take a look at what can go. Your desk should have your computer, your inbox, perhaps a notepad, and maybe a cherished photo. From now on, put everything in your inbox, and process it at least once a day. Store the office supplies and gadgets in a drawer, and file those papers where you’ll be able to find them when you need them.
  5. Clear your email inbox. This has the same psychological effect as a clear desk. Is your email inbox always full of read and unread messages? That’s because you’re delaying decisions on your emails. If your inbox has been piling up for awhile, this could take longer than one day. Try putting all the messages in a temporary folder and go through them one chunk at a time (do 20 per day or so). Your choices are to delete, archive, respond immediately (then archive or delete), forward (then archive or delete), or flag it and note it on your to-do list (then archive or delete). Process each email like that until the inbox is empty. Going forward, each time you check your email, process it to empty.
  6. Schedule more time. We rush through the day, from one appointment or task to the next, until we collapse on the couch, exhausted, at the end of the day. Instead, simplify your life by doing less, then schedule more time for each task. If you normally allow 15 minutes between appointments, schedule 30. If it normally takes you 30 minutes to drive to that errand, give yourself 45 minutes. Eat slower, drive slower, walk slower, work slower. Savor the slowness and the calmness that comes from not hurrying.
  7. Single-task. Instead of multi-tasking, do one thing at a time. We’ve been conditioned to think that multi-tasking is “the” way to work, but really it can be overwhelming and distracting. Resist the urge to check email or do some other habitual task while you’re completing the task at hand. Stick to that one task until you’re done. It’ll make a huge difference in both your stress level and your productivity.

Conquering the File Pile: 7 Tips for Paper Management

I have a File Pile. A large one. I hate filing. I put it off as long as possible. But when the file gets too big, it’s overwhelming to even think about getting started. So how do we do this? Let’s break it down.

    1. As with any good decluttering project, it’s best to start with eliminating the unnecessary. Why file it if you don’t need it? I put everything in one big pile on the floor. I go through each piece, trying to talk myself into tossing as many as pieces of paper as possible. My recycle bin fills up, as does my shredder. I end up with a significantly smaller File Pile. Yay! Progress!
    2. A simple filing system is key. I like to name file folders with a “keyword” description, such as “Utilities,” then put in a subtitle that describes exactly which utility the folder is for, “Utilities/Electricity.” I then organize the folders by type, such as all the house files together, all the medical files together, etc. Another popular technique is straight alphabetically — name the file and put it in ABC order. A friend of mine uses a large filing folder that’s generic (Utilities), then fills it with subfolders for each specific type inside (Electricity, Water, Internet, etc.) Pick whatever method works for you.
    3. Now file something. I “know” the key to keeping the filing system current is to always file right away. I’m not very good at that. I’m trying to make it a habit. Instead of letting it all pile up, can you at least file weekly instead of uh, semi-yearly? Just as bad, don’t put items in a pile or a folder marked “To File.” Seriously, opening the file drawer and putting the document in the correct folder should take all of 5 seconds, then you’re done. It really shouldn’t be hard to make it a habit, right?
    4. To make it easier to file right away, keep a supply of manila or hanging file folders and labels someplace handy. If you have something that needs to be filed but doesn’t have a folder for it yet, you can create one on the fly and get that document in the filing cabinet where it belongs.
    5. Slowly reduce your filing needs. Instead of paper files, try to store information online or on your computer. I have a virtual filing cabinet on my computer, literally called “filing cabinet,” and it’s set up just like my paper filing cabinet. Contacts, budgets, ideas, kids’ school info. Just make sure to back up your computer often. Since I tend to forget those kinds of things, I gave up the worry and signed up for Carbonite to back up my computer regularly. I also use Dropbox for a lot of my files, and Dropbox automatically backs up for you anyway. You can ask people to email you important files instead of giving you paper copies — most documents are created on a computer anyway. I also use eFax for receiving faxes, so I can save them electronically instead of having the printed page. And, of course, the biggie is to stop printing stuff! Do you really need a hard copy of that document? Make pdfs your friend!
    6. With the stuff you do need to keep that’s in paper form, can you scan it and save it digitally? I do this with my sons’ artwork. They bring home a ton of it. I scan it all into the computer or take a digital photo, save only my very favorite pieces in their original form, and send the rest of to grandma and grandpa. The grandparents love it. I love that I don’t have to store it. Yet I still get to “keep” it all.
    7. A note about why stacking doesn’t work. When you just stack your papers up, then the pile gets a bigger and bigger and more intimidating and then you have a huge pile that you never want to go through (that was always my M-O). You can’t find anything when you need it, and you’re frustrated that the organizing thing isn’t working for you. Plus, the unsightly pile clutters up your desk, distracting you from your real work. Trust me, been there, done that. Stop the stacking.