Mess. I make a lot of it. It might be a simple thing like getting undressed before bed or opening mail in my home office, but somehow I end up with piles of metaphoric crap all over the place.
I used to, periodically, spend a couple of hours cleaning every few weeks, cursing my inability to keep things clean. This was particularly a problem in my home office where there wasn’t anything like the urgency of clothes in need of a laundry.
Receipts, DVDs, cords, paperclips, articles and mail grew in bacteria-like colonies across my desk, in my in-tray and on any surface that was not already so covered in detritus that they couldn’t take just a little more.
A large part of the problem was getting the time to do a major clean. Almost nothing feels better than taking a horrible mess and tidying it, organising it and finishing with a workspace that doesn’t require apologising to visitors. The transformation is tedious and not at all like the make-over montages we see in teen cinema. Nor is it like the instant-tidying clicking that Mary Poppins led us to believe was possible. It’s laborious and mind-numbing. So it’s more than just a time problem, it’s a motivation problem.
Who in their right mind would want to put themselves through that? Yet I did on an irregular basis.
One day recently I found myself with 10 minutes to spare. I started cleaning my office and found that I could actually make some progress. At the end of the 10 minutes I just left it where it lay. But I felt good. I made progress.
I realised that I often have 10 minutes at various times in the day that I used to waste with playing some game on my phone or performing vanity searches on various engines.
The next day I found myself with some time again and this time set a timer. 10 minutes. For 10 minutes and no more I’d file, sort and dispose. The alarm sounded and I walked away.
10 minutes is nothing in the course of a day. It’s a disciplined amount of time and it doesn’t vary. 10 consecutive minutes would sometimes be just before going to bed because it was the only time I had spare but delaying sleep by 10 minutes isn’t going to make much difference.
After 5 days my inbox was clear, there was no detritus on my large desk (I have a door on two filing cabinets) and I could actually start working on other areas like book shelves, filing draws, et cetera.
I am not the sort of person who puts things away as soon as they are used. I never have been and it’s unlikely I ever will be.
A simple restriction and predetermined end point was all I needed to maintain some kind of order in my home office. I extended the same rule to my bed room and it was amazing. 10 minute blocks over a series of days made such a huge impact that soon it was 10 minutes of maintenance or more efficient organisation.
I started to expand the idea of 10 minutes to other areas of my life. Finances, photo-tagging and any other mundane but somewhat necessary bit of organisation I required.
The process fell over. I stopped doing anything. The list of 10 minute things became too daunting. I found myself looking at it and thinking “Well, that’s 90 minutes I require to get all of that done.” Suddenly nothing gets done because I have the same problem of not knowing where to start.
I cut the list back to just keeping my personal areas tidy and organised.
It’s an exercise in discipline of the achievable. I’ll need to adapt that to other things that need to get done. Maybe those are once a week tasks. Maybe once a month. The trick is finding the balance between the time I’m willing to spend and how quickly the rubbish can pile up. It’s an ongoing process.