Reformat Your Life: Deleting clutter for productivity

Do you ever just want to chuck everything out and start fresh? It’s daunting, but tempting. Do you love the feel of a freshly formatted computer or an empty desktop? Today we look at getting that same feeling by deleting the unnecessary in your every day life.

How much stuff do you have in your life that you don’t need? Is it hindering your productivity? Making it harder to find things? Harder to get things done?

Some people, like myself, almost need a bit of clutter around to work. Toys on the desk, several pens at the ready. It seems a clear space never stays fully clear for long.

But even then, too much physical (or digital) clutter can lead to mental clutter.

And the more mental mountains you have to climb to just get started on something, the less productive you’ll be.

If you have to click down seven folders to get to “New Folder (6)” and then sort through documents called “Doc 1″ and “Important” for 15 minutes before you can find what you’re looking for – before you can even begin working on that file – you need to declutter.

Instead, if you have a fresh, clean physical or digital space, your mind will be fresh and clean as well and ready to fill the blanks with creativity and productivity.

I’ve just gotten a new computer and installed only the essentials. It reminded me how unnecessary many of the things on my old PC were (with over 4TB nearly full).

I’m also moving house next year, so we’re looking through our belongings and throwing a lot of them away.

This topic’s been on my mind and I’ve been using these questions to help myself. When you want to declutter your life, think on these four questions.

Ask yourself:

  1. Have I used this in the past 12 months?
  2. Does this serve the purpose of this space?
  3. What does my ideal space look like?
  4. Is this irreplaceable?

1. Have I used this in the past 12 months?

If you haven’t used something in the past 12 months – whether that be a bookmark, a downloaded show or game, or whatever’s boxed up in that cupboard over there – you probably don’t need it.

Some of it may be sentimental, but still, what are your plans for it? If you haven’t used it in the past year you probably won’t use it next year either, or the one after. If you realise you can make better use of whatever it is, great! Enact a plan to make sure you do.

For instance, add that bookmark to your main toolbar (or an RSS feed, for a comic), schedule a time to watch that show, or unbox and put your childhood toys on display.

2. Does this serve the purpose of this space?

Do you have games on your work laptop? Are they serving the purpose of that space? The answer may be ‘yes’, they are there for you to play on your lunch breaks. Great! But if your work computer has more Steam games than Word files, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about the purpose of the space before. That’s okay. Do it now.

Is this space for work? For play? Creativity? Concentration? Relaxation? Work it out and look at your space – digital or physical – through that lens and see what’s off about it.

Perhaps you have too many toys in your workspace, or your creative workshop is too rigid or bland. Your relaxation space might be too hot or too noisy. Your gaming computer might be too slow and better suited as a work computer.

Look into it and see how you can change your space or its contents to better suit its purpose.

3. What does my ideal space look like?

Let’s start with an example. Your home computer. The folders and files, but also the setup and desk.

Take a look at it. Or imagine it. Just as it is.

Now, imagine your ideal home computer. As if it was fully decked out with everything you wanted and needed and nothing you didn’t. It can be however you’d like it to be.

Now compare that fantasy with reality.

What about your real computer is also in the fantasy? Keep that stuff, it’s core and key to your ideal computer. It may be particular desktop settings. Or the monitor or sound system. Certain programs or a particular macro you use. Keep it. It’s important to you.

Now consider what else is in your real computer. The extra stuff that wasn’t in your fantasy. Like saved comics or pictures you never look at. Or all those old shows and games you love but haven’t played for years. Dozens of old Word docs that don’t make sense. Or something that you find installed and you really don’t even know what it is or where it came from.

Get rid of that clutter!

Your ideal computer had none of that. So, it’s not ideal! While you might not be able to achieve that ideal computer immediately, you can step closer to it by getting rid of that extra clutter. And in doing so, the space will more clearly serve its intended purpose.

Reduce. Reformat. Recycle.

You will be most productive (or relaxed, or creative – whatever the purpose of the space is) in a space as close your ideal as you can get.

You can do the same process with anything. Like your work space, whether that’s at the home or office.

Compare that fantasy with reality. What’s in both? Perhaps lighting conditions. Certain items, like a photo of loved ones, or a stress ball you use for thinking. Keep the important stuff. Remove the rest, like that mug of thirty pens. Or all those old papers you never refer to. Or that book that you realise isn’t even yours, but one you borrowed a year ago.

4. Is this irreplaceable?

After running through the previous three thought exercises, if you still can’t work out whether to keep or remove something, as yourself: is it truly irreplaceable?

No? Chuck it.

Yes? Consider keeping it, but revisit the first three questions again. Even irreplaceable things aren’t necessarily serving a space’s purpose or any real purpose.

Some things are sentimental, or homemade, or you can’t buy them any more. If you really can’t part with it, turn a harsher eye to the other things you’ve said you can’t part with and see if they’re really as valuable as this thing.

I did that just last week. I decided to keep something somewhat useful and that set the bar. Soon I found something much more precious and knew I had to keep it. I looked back a the other things I’d decided I couldn’t possibly throw away and promptly binned them. I had only thought they were important until I found something that actually was.

Open Chat

So, there you go. It’s a quick one today, I know. Organising and decluttering is a big topic. We’ll revisit it again, don’t you worry. In the meantime, I hope these initial techniques help you tidy up as we near the end of the year.

What are your top tips for decluttering? How often do you ‘spring clean’? What’s something you know you haven’t used for over a year? Are you keeping it or not? Why?


When Jarrod's not writing about personal development through pop-culture, he's helping people like you reach their goals through fun, empowering coaching.

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