Empty desk, clear mind


I used to be a messy-desk guy, and proud of it. I wanted to be like Indiana Jones and project cool amidst chaos, as if “I’m making this up as I go” like any other superhero. As my work responsibilities grew and family life began to take priority, though, I found I was juggling too much in my head too often, and looking at piles wasn’t helping. I got things done, but probably not as well as I could have and at some cost to my peace of mind.

So, I converted. I went over to the clean-desk side. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) became my bible for organizing my life. I completely changed my approach to work and personal tasks. Lessons from that epic book still resonate. I’m wired now to keep defaulting to an empty desk and empty email in-box. I can stray for a while but then find a nagging unease underlying my mood. “What’s off?” I wonder. Ah. Disorder has crept in, and piles on my desk or working too often from my email in-box are the cues to take action and impose order again.

I used to do a weekly Friday review as suggested in the GTD philosophy. I would put it on my calendar each week. That made sure I regularly corralled loose ends and kept order. I’ve gotten away from that habit and need a revival. Friday is a great day for a weekly review. You can then go into the weekend having dumped and processed the mental load of the work week and be more open to the rest of your life.

Daily and weekly rituals for tidying your life can give you clarity and allow you focus on what is most essential. Cut the clutter. Eliminate the inessential. Clean your desk. Point your life toward what matters most, which may be obscured if there are piles in the way, literally or in your mind.

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