What Can Clutter Tell You?

by Randy Murray on August 25, 2014

The far end of my desk is currently a mass of paper, notebooks, and folders. It’s actually something like four piles that have fallen together. To the untrained eye it may look like I’m in the middle of something big. But I know better.

One pile is my overflowing inbox. The other is a project that will take just a couple of hours to complete, but I simply can’t raise enough interest to get it done. The other is one of my play projects— a half-filled legal pad and a Moleskine notebook stuffed with research (along with over 30 pages typed into Final Draft, currently open on my Macbook Pro).

There’s also a practice book for the ukulele and a Levenger circa punch for adding sheet music to my playbook.

This clutter isn’t about not having enough time to get to these things. The clutter is a sign, a symptom. I’m avoiding the work, some of it because it’s hard and I’m not sure how to do it, some because it’s boring and doesn’t interest me, and some because I keep forgetting to get it done on a regular basis, mainly because it’s mixed up with everything else.

And all of it has now merged into one big pile that screams “avoid me!”.

What I need in times like this is better organized clutter. If I separate the piles, I can handle one or two of these projects right away. That will leave only the stuff that I don’t want to do.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a way to stop avoiding those piles, too.

For me, clutter is a sign that I’m avoiding something. It’s an unintentional avoidance. “I put it in a pile, which means I want to do it.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.

But it’s not very effective and it wears on me. When I finally recognize that I need to get back on track, it’s time to restack the piles and figure out what’s what. I need to clearly set aside projects that I don’t want to do, and then, when everything else is done, nail down exactly why I don’t want to complete these tasks. If the project bores me, then I need to know if I can give it up. If not, then it’s time to power through it. If I don’t know how to do the project, and more often than not this tends to be the case, then it’s time to start another project: figuring out how to do it (and yes, that’s a separate task from actually getting it done).

What does your clutter say to you?

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