Clean Out Your Clutter

May 14, 2016

Most of us need a reminder once in a while to clean out our clutter. This article is about the topic of clutter in various parts of our lives and how we need to keep it from building up.

If you have the personal discipline never to have a cluttered desk or workbench, stop reading and give yourself a medal for being so organized. The rest of us will pick apart the clutter and find some ways of coping.

First, it would be good to identify exactly what clutter is. Clutter is that set of things (or ideas) that once served a useful purpose in our lives, but now are no longer useful.

For example, if you look in your cupboard or pantry, you are likely to find some condiments or food items that expired over a year ago. If you think about it, these items are not safe to eat, and you will never use them. They remain on the shelf taking up valuable space, but they will not be consumed by you or anyone else.

To throw them out would be the smart thing to do, but some of us continue to work around these artifacts and simply refuse to do what is obviously right.

Look in your closet. There are probably clothes in there that you intellectually know you will never wear again. Your body shape is not going to return to the size that would allow you to wear them, and you cannot legitimately give them to someone else due to their condition. Yet, year after year, they remain in your closet taking up space and leaving the place a cluttered mess.

Keeping clutter is not just a bad habit for people; it is also a problem for organizations. In any organization, there are procedures and processes that have no current purpose, but we continue to do them out of momentum. They sap energy and time from our current operation, but we fail to stop them.

An example might be a daily report that nobody pays any attention to anymore. It may be the ancient Mimeograph supplies in the stationery cabinet. They will sit there for decades in their unopened boxes, even though the Mimeograph machine was tossed out in 1975.

You probably have ink cartridges or toner for printers that no longer exist in your office. The list goes on and on. Spare parts for machines we no longer own; old Christmas decorations we no longer use; trade show posters collecting dust; a broken vase; these are all items that can be found in most office store rooms, and there are thousands of other examples, if you think about it.

There is also mental clutter that clogs our brains with old ideas that do not apply in our current world, or maybe never did apply very well. For example, many managers still practice a “command and control” philosophy, clinging to the ancient belief that in order to get things done they need to scare people into compliance.

Managers may believe that to “motivate” people, all they need to do is add some extrinsic goodies like t-shirts, pizza parties, or hat days. Those ideas went out with Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory over 60 years ago, yet every day I still see managers trying to “motivate” people with extrinsic rewards.

How can we get a handle on clutter and remove much of it from our lives?

To start with, we need to be able to actually see the clutter in a different form than we usually do. I think one way is to do campaigns where we remove every single bottle of lotion or shampoo from a cupboard and then only replace those items we are likely to use in the future.

You can do one cupboard or closet a day and have an entire room cleaned up in a week. You can set aside three consecutive days on your calendar to do the garage or attic. Just be sure to have a dumpster handy and a wheelbarrow to carry the junk out to it.

With edible condiments and drug or cosmetic items, the rule is to buy only what you intend to use. Use up each item and throw away the container before you purchase a replacement. If you use 3/4 of the bottle, then buy a replacement, eventually you will have cupboards full of 1/4 full bottles and no room for any new ones, plus you will spend 25% more for your cosmetics than you need to. Use what you have before opening a new jar.

With the office procedures, why not have a “clean out” day where we challenge all of the rituals and things that take up our time. There is a formal process for this called “Work Out.” The idea is to take the useless work out of our processes so we can spend our precious time only on the things that matter, thus de-cluttering our processes. The concepts of lean thinking and “5S” principles are particularly helpful for these clean out activities.

The benefit of cleaning out your clutter is that you make room to put the vital few things for your current existence front and center where they are readily available and not hidden among the piles of useless garbage that has built up over the years.

In the event that you need to downsize your environment in the future (and we all eventually do), you will need to throw out the clutter anyway, why not start now and enjoy some more usable resources today.

Your e-mail inbox is another place where clutter can easily accumulate. One antidote for this problem is to make a vow to have the inbox cleaned out totally at least three times a week. If you are really ambitious, see if you can get the inbox to zero read and unread notes at least once a day. People tell me that is impossible, and I admit that I do not always get there, but often I do. I did today, for example.

There are numerous advantages to having a clean inbox. First, you will be more responsive to other people, and that will help build trust between you. I just answered an RFP in record time simply because it was the only thing in my inbox. That may give me an advantage to get selected; maybe not, but at least it is done and out of here.

People also tell me I am much more responsive to proposals than other consultants or speakers. I do not spend a micro-second scanning over old e-mails looking for something I need. I can see everything there is in my inbox with just one glance. People view me as being an organized person, because I almost never lose things or get behind on deliverables.

Successful people have the knack of working at a pace that they define rather than one that is defined by others. For example, Seth Goden can write a book in a weekend, and he writes an insightful blog every day. He has developed a system that works well for him. I admire his prolific nature and seek to emulate it in a more modest pattern that works for me.

One trick I learned a long time ago from my former mentor is to always “work ahead of the power curve,” which is shorthand for “do your work well ahead of the deadline date.” You get more done, and you are rarely late.

Key points

1. Clutter exists in many forms that are physical, mental, emotional, or electronic.
2. It takes discipline to keep the level of clutter down.
3. Electronic clutter is as much of a problem as physical clutter.
4. There are many benefits to getting rid of clutter.

Exercises that will help

1. Name at least 5 practices at your place of work that are wasting the time of people. How could these be eliminated?
2. Now name 5 more and recognize that the potential to identify waste is infinite.
3. What is your personal process for cleaning out the clutter in your life? Are you satisfied with how that is working?
4. Identify one storage area at home and at work each month and have a “cleaning out day.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Trust and Solving Problems

July 18, 2015

When low trust teams have to tackle real problems, it can be a disaster. The interpersonal issues keep getting in the way.

If you can build high trust into the team dynamic, then the efficiency of solving problems goes up dramatically.

It is important to assess the level of trust on every team. I have developed a quick survey that can be very helpful at understanding the level of trust on your team. If you would like access, just drop me a line.

There are numerous other surveys available online if you just do a quick search.

I sit on several Boards of Directors, and one of them is a pretty low trust group. When a problem comes up, it seems the team is always tiptoeing around the interpersonal issues.

We can discuss things for an hour and not get close to the real problem at hand. We quite often end up putting “BandAids”® on the symptoms hoping the problem will resolve itself.

We all know the world does not work that way.

Another BOD I sit on is a particularly high trust group. They solve problems quickly and efficiently because they get to the heart of the issue fast without playing games with each other.

One hallmark of high trust groups is that they solve problems quickly and with high quality solutions while having fun. Low trust groups often fail to solve the real problem and frequently have to deal with a lot of acrimony.

Exercise for you: Take the time today to do an assessment of the trust level on your team. This is especially important if your team seems to struggle at times. Make sure all members of the team take the instrument and share the data.

If trust is lacking, then get a commitment to do something about it.

Putting up with interpersonal issues that result from low trust is a sign of mediocrity. You can move to excellence simply by investing some time and energy into raising the trust level. It is not impossible, and your team will become much more efficient.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Time Out

March 25, 2012

Imagine that you had a way to tell the leader of a meeting that you were bored with the current discussion and wished the conversation could move on to a more helpful topic.  Now imagine you could share your thought with others to test if they agreed without getting them or the leader upset with you.  If that seems like a utopia, just read on; this article has the solution to many hours of wasted time spent in meetings.

I advocate that each team should have some kind of Charter that allows the participants of team meetings to establish a set of ground rules to be as efficient as possible. At any time in its existence, a team can establish a few rules that will save everyone an amazing amount of frustration.

What is required is that the team be a group of mature individuals who all have their mutual best interest at heart. It helps a lot of there is real trust within the team.  Then just a quick brainstorm can generate a few basic rules.  For example, here are three rules that can lead to a more effective group process:

  1. We will start and end our meetings on time.
  2. We will listen to each other’s input and not grandstand.
  3. We will not make jokes at the expense of any team member.

One incredibly powerful team rule is the use of the “Time Out” signal.  The hand signal is the familiar one from football, where the referee puts the tips of the fingers of one hand to the palm of the other hand to form the letter “T.” Once a group has established that it is safe to do this, something magic happens.

Each member of the team is now empowered to let his or her thoughts be known when the group appears to be spinning wheels.  The time out sign is merely calling the question by letting the leader know that at least one individual thinks the team would be better off moving to a different topic.  Because of the agreement that the individual will not be punished for making the gesture, team members are free to use it when the situation arises.

The team leader should now say something like this, “I see Jake is signaling that he wants to move on, are the rest of you in agreement?”  If most of the team members show affirmative body language or verbal response, then the subject can immediately be changed to something more valuable. Imagine how refreshing this method would be in those all-day meetings that seem to drag on forever.

Just this one hand signal can save a team hours of tedious repetition or arguments, once a team agrees to use it.  I advocate that you encourage your team at work to discuss and approve the use of the “time out” gesture and other basic rules. These rules can significantly improve the productivity and empowerment of any team.