I have lots of mindfulness and strategic tools in my office, but the most useful one is a brand-new shredder. It cost $50 with coupons. Powerful enough to eat through papers, folders and credit cards for 30 minutes straight, the little monster turned my save-for-a-rainy-day piles into buckets of confetti. The debris filled two garbage cans roughly my height and width.
What are you still carrying that you don't need? The cathartic act of destruction, of removal and of closure gives us space for our next act. It forces us to make peace with the past. It also gives us pause to honor what we've done.
1. The physical clutter
In one pile, for instance, I found my business card from a few years ago. It said JOURNALIST in big letters, proudly referred to publications that don't exist anymore and highlighted projects and books that, at the time, represented the peak of my career. Speaking at TED was still a dream. Being a startup founder wasn't even on the radar. This random scrap piece of paper represented an acknowledgement of my growth, something that us entrepreneurs are want to do. It also made me realize that I was just as likely to find my 2015 business card one day and quietly acknowledge, again, how much my career had evolved–an inspiring, high-level thought while I do the day-to-day entrepreneurial march.
2. The virtual clutter
It can be just as inspiring to do a virtual purge. In fact, the real challenge in the future won't be us drowning in papers, but being overwhelmed by stuffed email accounts, bursting app screens and bloated cloud drives. As I argued in Our Virtual Shadow: Why We Are Obsessed with Documenting Our Lives Online, "The way we are using technology, our idea is that we document everything now and sort it out later." Well, the sooner you make "later" happen, the more mental and emotional space you'll give for future growth.
It's overwhelming, but here is where you can start:
- Buy a shredder or another efficiency-focused product. It's worth getting services and products that will create room for your future business. The virtual side is equally important. For example, a computer efficiency program can delete orphaned data and compress your useful files so you can work faster.
- Take an afternoon to assess. Imagine you are working in a new office on a new computer. We have unparalleled focus, clarity and relief when we're working with a clean slate. Decluttering and deleting isn't on the same level, but spending three hours organizing can bring us much closer to that nirvana. Time is our most valuable asset, but the return on investment here is high.
- Prevent indecisiveness by hiding your stuff. If you are on the fence about tossing any physical or digital goods, try putting them away, like in a dark part of the closet or in a file deep within your computer memory. Check in a few months later. If you haven't accessed them, then you probably don't need them. The hiding technique is popular among clothing decluttering experts.
Sorting, removing and tossing our entrepreneurial baggage may the ultimate way to assess our past–giving us clarity for which previous pitfalls to avoid and where we should be focusing on next. When is the last time you cleared the decks?