When clutter creeps… and what that has to do with getting stuff done
I’ve written before about how stressed I became in my last ‘proper’ job. When I was at rock bottom I was desperate for a solution, and so began my frantic google search for things like ‘help me slow down’. It was from there that I discovered the joy of decluttering.
I threw myself into it with as much gusto as I could muster. When my stress was so bad that I was off work for a couple of weeks, decluttering our home was about as much as I could manage. I loved it. I was getting rid of the old. Clearing space. Tackling those corners of the house that I’d been putting off. It felt AMAZING. I got rid of over 2000 things and our house suddenly felt like an oasis of calm.
But then something interesting happened. Nine months later, I looked around and started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I was seeing everywhere. Clutter-creep had struck without me noticing. So, I grabbed some empty boxes and did another round. This time I tackled the loft too. Aaaahh. It felt GREAT.
And then, six months later, I looked around and felt uneasy again; I needed to get rid of more stuff. Sigh.
Why am I telling you this in a blog about getting stuff done?
It occurred to me the other day that the same thing happens with productivity.
We feel overwhelmed and stressed so we begin a desperate search for a solution. We make lots of changes that we think will solve all our problems. We buy a new planner and some new notebooks and look online for tips that will help.
Tidy desk at the end of the day? TICK!
Break projects down into manageable tasks? TICK!
Turn off notifications on our phone? TICK!
Switch off email? TICK!
We’ve nailed it! Happy days. Life feels easier. We can feel the stress melting away.
But then something interesting happens. A few weeks or months go by and suddenly something doesn’t feel right. At best, we’re a little uneasy and unsettled. At worst, we’re back to full-blown stress and overwhelm.
What on earth happened? Things were going so well!
I have a theory.
Clutter-creep happens when you take your eye off the ball and stop paying attention to the things that you allow to enter and remain in your home.
I think that a similar ‘creep’ occurs with productivity when you take your eye off the ball and stop paying attention to the good habits you’d created when you were desperate for change.
When you’re frazzled, you can feel the motivation to do things differently. I mean, you can literally FEEL it in your body. You’re tense, knotted, tired and cranky. That’s a pretty powerful motivator!
So, what happens when you’ve made changes that leave you feeling in control? Things get easier and you start to feel more relaxed. Amazing! Only now the strong motivation - the ‘pain’ you were feeling before - isn’t there anymore. After a while, things start to slip. You forget to tidy your desk. It can’t harm to turn on the notifications on your phone, and now things aren’t so overwhelming it’s fine to be checking emails throughout the day, right?
(I know, because I’ve been there.)
Those small shifts are often so gradual, that at first you don’t notice. Like the clutter that builds when your back is turned, the backslide creeps up on you. Until one day you wake up feeling that tension in your body that signals something’s not right.
Complacency when things are going well is inevitable, but has a lot to answer for!
It’s no surprise that we fall back into our old habits. They’ve been there for years and have worn a very deep groove over time. Of course we’re going to fall back into them. And because they run so deep, it can be difficult to climb back out again.
Here are three steps that can help you:
1) The moment you realise you’ve relapsed, give yourself a time out. Think back to the changes you made when things were going well. What have you stopped doing? It could be something obvious like tidying your desk at the end of the day. Or perhaps you’ve stopped getting out for a walk or taking regular exercise.
2) Be honest with yourself about why you stopped doing those things. Was it laziness? Did it no longer feel like a priority once things were under control? Did you hate it?
When making changes, sometimes it’s just about being consistent until it becomes second nature. But in some cases there could be something about the habit or activity that just wasn’t working for you. What could you do to tweak it so that it feels more comfortable and aligned to YOU?
3) Once you’re clear on the habits you need to reintroduce, write them down somewhere as a daily reminder. Consider introducing one per week rather than trying to do them all at once. Dust yourself off, have a cup of tea, congratulate yourself for having paid attention and then make a commitment to yourself to try again. If you need some accountability, you can get that over in The Getting Stuff Done Collective.
You might need to go through this process a few times before you finally nail it. That’s perfectly normal, so please don’t feel disheartened! But if you need some help figuring this stuff out, I’m here for you. Through my 1:1 mentoring programme I can support you in finding a way of getting stuff done that works for you.
Have you experienced this phenomenon yourself? What do you do when you feel like you’re back at square one? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please do share in the comments below!
And of course, I’d love you to share this if you know anybody else who might find it useful.