Change Yourself: Change Your World

The best way to change your environment is to change yourself.

See My Messy Life

So often in the past I’ve tried to “get organized”, to tidy up the mess that I’ve got myself into, and every time I have failed.

Now, it doesn’t look as if my life is in chaos. Compared to some people I know, I am really together. But the truth is that I have a lot of mess to sort out in my life:

  • Paperwork that needs filing
  • Boxes of junk in the attic
  • Stuff piled up in the corner of my desk
  • Hundreds of unsorted emails in my in-box
  • The weeds in the garden
  • Hundreds and hundreds of small jobs waiting to be done

The trouble is, it all mounts up. It is getting in the way, slowing me down, making me feel miserable and frustrated, preventing me from from living with a clear head and a clean conscience.

And it grows. Daily it grows.

Forget the Binge Clean-up

In the past, I have imagined that a couple of days hard graft would make a significant difference to my disorganised life. And it does – or at least appears to – for a little while. But all too quickly, the mess creeps back. And what have I learned? That getting organised is a big job, a miserable chore, and something at which I fail.

Take a Look in the Mirror

And then it came to me: my problem is not really the mess itself. If it were, then my binge-tidying would make a difference. No, the problem is not the mess: the problem is me.

If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.Stephen R. Covey

The thing I need to change most is not the pile of junk on my desk, but the habits that let it build up in the first place. I need to change how I work so that I don’t create a big problem for myself.
As the the poet said:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Michael Jackson

Now, recognising that I’m the problem isn’t a comfortable experience, but at least it is something that I can do something about.

Set Goals

I can’t possibly take on everything all at once. If I do, I’ll spread myself too thin and achieve nothing. All I’ll learn is yet another way to fail. No, I need to make a day of small beginnings, to change some small habits that will have big benefits. To invest a little today to gain a lot tomorrow. At the same time, I recognise that I need to start somewhere, so I’ve determined to start where I have most chance of success.
To this end, I set myself 4 simple goals at the beginning of the year:

  1. Clear my work email in-box
  2. Archive anything of value in my sent items folder
  3. Clear my PC desktop
  4. Clear the junk from my physical desktop

Build Habits

Now, I do want a clear desk. But more importantly, I want to learn to keep my desk clear. So, I decided not to blitz any one of these areas. Instead, I developed a simple system that will (I hope) teach me to tackle each of these areas every day.
By taking this approach, I intend to develop daily habits that help me keep my working environment the way I want it rather than the way it has been for a very long time.

Building a habit is like building muscle – you have to do a little each day. So, I set myself a daily target. At the start of each day, I aim to:

  1. Clear 15 emails from my in-box + clear any new ones that have arrived there in the last 24 hours.
  2. Clear 20 emails from my sent items + clear any new ones.
  3. Clear 10 items from my PC desktop + avoid adding any new ones.
  4. Clear 10 items from my physical desktop.

And I have one rule – don’t over do it. If, once I get into the flow, I want to clear a few extra emails then that’s fine. But I must not get carried away. My priority is teaching myself a habit, not clearing up.

Track Progress

To help me keep track of where I am, each day I find a scrap of paper and use a tally chart to mark off my progress on the day’s tasks. Once I’ve done the task, I throw away the tally chart – I don’t want it to become part of the clutter problem!

Follow this Guide

Thus far, I have found the following helpful:

  • Start small
  • Start simple
  • Start somewhere where other people won’t keep messing things up
  • Do a little each day
  • If you miss a day or some of a day’s activities, don’t try to make them up the following day. Just carry on building the routine
  • If your family or friends are supportive, enlist their help
  • Celebrate success

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Aristotle


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