My grandmother raised her family through the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s. Anyone who lived through that time had a very real well-reinforced reason not to throw anything out. The challenge she left when she died, however, was the long-lasting result of that ‘might-be-useful-one-day’ attitude. My mother and aunties had to weave their way between shoulder-high boxes of mostly junk when it came time to sort out her effects.
People today don’t have that excuse, but judging by some homes and offices, you’d think they did! The modern version, loosely translated into Murphy’s Law (got to blame someone!), is that as soon as you throw an item out, you need it.
Just imagine that every item we have, every possession we own, has an invisible silver cord attached from us to it. In fact, on an energy level that’s true. Every ‘thing’ we have responsibility for claims some of our mental energy, whether or not we’re aware of it. The question for you to consider is whether the connection, the attachment, energises or depletes you.
I believe the Japanese focus on simplicity is on the right track. Less is best. I like to think of it as the Zen of a Clean Office. There is a completely different energy in a clean, uncluttered place. So, let’s consider a few useful pointers to help you let go.
Next time you’re in the environment that gives you most grief, look around as if you were seeing through a stranger’s eyes.
What haven’t you looked at or used for some time?
Now, with that awareness, jot down anything you can see, or know is lurking somewhere out of sight, that you really could throw out. One of my students realised that she hadn’t vacuumed under her bed for a very long time, due to the huge pile of ‘Better Home and Garden’ type magazines she kept promising herself to go back through (oh yeah!). She hauled out, dusted off, and delivered them to the doctor’s waiting room across the road. They welcomed this wonderful treasure trove of pristine magazines with open arms: Maggie walked away feeling fabulous and light as air.
Still need help?
- Why am I not letting these obsolete things go?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen if I remove them from my environment?
- What’s the benefit of clearing them out?
- Who else can get value from my ‘junk’? You don’t need to be reminded how many educational organisations on tight budgets would really appreciate your obsolete computers and programmes (if your school is well-off you’re sure to know someone in a less financial position); kindergartens take just about any ‘junk’ and recycle it into wonderful works of art; charity organisations struggle to run on a pittance and are grateful for any assistance; refugee groups constantly seek help for escapees from situations you can only imagine. Do yourself a favour – invoke the Law of Release. The amazing thing is – as you free yourself on a physical level, your energy lifts and you find you’ll be less tired and able to work harder, faster, and more effectively.
And some further key ‘pruning’ questions:
- Will I ever need it?
- Would it matter if I lost it?
- Has someone else kept a copy, and can they find it?
- Do I need all of it, or just a part?
- What’s the worst thing that will happen if I throw this away?
Some Quick Throw Tips
If you receive regular mail, emails or faxes you don’t want to receive (and who doesn’t?), take a moment to get off the lists, if at all possible. A few daily wasted minutes adds up to hours of wasted time and therefore money – not just for you but also for other staff members, sometimes for years to come.
Usually a ‘return to sender’ on the envelope and a polite request to be taken off the mailing list is sufficient (except for a few very persistent magazine and marketing companies!).
If it’s someone with whom you have a relationship, a polite note or phone call works well. Explain that you wish them all the best, and therefore would like to help them keep their marketing costs down, save them time, and preserve trees! You’ve found you don’t need their regular mail outs, but you’ll keep their details on record and call them when you require their services (or some other diplomatic words). When said with a pleasant smile in your voice, almost everyone appreciates your thoughtfulness and you don’t burn bridges you might need one day.
Same as above, but because they are delivered via a telephone line, if any particularly hard-of-hearing organisations take no notice you can call Telecom and lay a complaint.
I’ve even heard of companies sending an account for the wasted fax paper.
Another particularly extreme solution, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re really driven to distraction and they just WON’T listen, is to tape up the two ends of the offending fax whilst in your machine, and return it to them, with some very pointed message from your unsmiling self scrawled on it. It creates a never-ending message – until their fax paper runs out!
Do an audit on your filing habits
Look through your cabinets and drawers, consider what comes in, is filed, and never again sees the light of day. You may be shocked to find that a huge amount of what you save is only a paper security blanket, with no real use.
Encourage your team not to be hoarders. Reward streamlined systems and efficient behaviour. You only need one squirrel in the school to take responsibility for office memos and the like – make sure everyone knows who that person is – usually the Office Manager or a school secretary. Discourage the others from duplication –small inefficiency habits of every staff member can cost a lot of time and money. Problem is – the faster and easier the communication, the higher the degree of waste. (Consider how far and fast an irrelevant and time-wasting email can spread. People don’t fax silly jokes to their whole list of fax numbers!)
Audit your systems and records requirements
From time to time have a staff meeting, or delegate a sub-group (with authority to ask questions and make recommendations) to check the paperwork and systems you currently use. You might be handling and storing records unnecessarily.
What forms do you require your parents to fill in? Picking up on Linda Vining’s constant push for excellent customer service, the more user-friendly your school, the better your marketing image. How about having a brainstorm session with some ‘customers’ to objectively evaluate your form-filling requirements. Quite aside from the benefits to your parents, if you can streamline your forms and systems you’ll save hundreds of hours a year of unnecessary processing and filing, and many thousands of dollars in wages and storage costs.
As I ran a time management course for a rapidly growing security company, one of the newer staff members commented in passing that her biggest challenge was a particular report. It came in from all the subsidiaries, was processed by her, and then a summary of the results and some recommendations for action were sent back to the source.
By a stroke of luck we had the Chief Financial Officer in the room that day. He looked at her in shock, and said, ‘Are we still doing that? I didn’t realise – with the improved systems we’ve installed we don’t need it any more!’
Needless to say, that issue was very quickly resolved. With just that one improvement they rapidly saved themselves more than the investment they’d made in hiring me!
Problem was, the girl doing the job had no way of knowing the task was obsolete. Her immediate boss was fairly new to the firm and hadn’t thought to check. The senior people who did know were focused on more strategic issues and had no idea what was happening down in the bowels of the company. What it needed was time to step back and take an objective view, which had been created by running the course.
Step back, check your processes, and have fun clearing out!