Fundamentals of Less Doing is a series of articles detailing how we think about productivity from a conceptual level. If you are new to Less Doing, the Fundamentals series is a great place to start.
It should go without saying that organization is paramount to any efficiency measure. Organization comes in many forms, whether it’s mental checklists, email processes, or physical space layout. All forms are important depending on the task at hand. A lot of people find it difficult to get or stay organized but we have a method that is simple to execute and requires only a modicum of discipline to follow. It’s all about setting limits.
Upper limits and lower limits can be useful in their own right. You need to set a reasonable limit for yourself in any task you do and abide by that. Accountants would look at this as kind of a FIFO system or First In First Out. The most concrete example I can give is my electronics stash. I used to have a closet completely dedicated to and full of electronic gear. There was a shelf for audio cables, a shelf for network cables, an area with all kinds of dead technology like a wristwatch walkie talkie (what? I was a budding secret agent…) and a whole mess of other stuff. I didn’t know the location of anything either so one that very rare occasion I needed a network patch cable I would make a bigger mess just trying to find it. After selling most of the stuff on eBay and recycling a lot of the rest, I now have a single egg crate for electronic stuff. It’s got a couple cables in it, an old webcam and some other miscellaneous items as well. The box is my absolute, no questions ask limit for storing electronic gear. The box is always filled so whenever something new comes along that I would put in the box, if I really want to keep it I have to get rid of something already in there. This forces me to make a decision about whether or not I really need that new thing, or if it’s more important than something at the bottom the box I haven’t seen in months. The other day I got a new cordless phone for our house and it came with a new telephone cord. I took a look (at the bottom of the box) and there were a couple in there, so the new one definitely was not a keeper. It’s very satisfying have that one small box in the closet instead of using an entire closet.
What About Everything Else?
Name it…email, grocery shopping, time on Facebook, workweek, etc…you should never have more than 50 emails in your inbox, you don’t need 8 boxes of cereal (unless you’re a house mom at a large fraternity), you shouldn’t spend more than a few minutes per hour on Facebook and you’re workweek should never, ever be seven days long. Everything can and should have a limit, even leisure time which should have a lower limit. Yes that is that other side of the coin, minimum limits to the things we do. These apply very well to travel (I want to take one trip per month), fitness (I will run 30 miles per week), nutrition (I will cook at home 3 times per week) and so on and so forth. Limits can refer to times or amounts, whatever makes the most sense for you. The key is picking a realistic limit and than sticking to it. It’s better to be conservative and hit your limits rather than constantly going past them and causing yourself more frustration. A cigar box for my electronic would have been somewhat over ambitious.
If You Only Walk Away With One Thing
Always set reasonable limits in the things you do and if you find yourself running up against those limits, it usually means something else has to go.