Clutter, Calm, and Creativity

Liz Sumner Environment, Productivity, Stop Doing What You Hate Leave a Comment

I was approached to contribute expert advice for an article pitched to Real Simple about enhancing your workspace for Productivity. “Cool” I thought. But I work with inner space, not physical space. Does what I coach about translate to how to set up your surroundings?

Why not.

For me it’s all about how you feel inside and your environment can certainly affect that. We do our best work when we begin with a sense of calm. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, calls it Water Mind—a stillness and sense of peace that everything will get handled.

Clutter can be distracting. It interferes with your focus and keeps you slightly agitated, thinking about all the other things you need to do.

But, on the other hand, environment is a matter of personal style, and I’m a firm believer in finding your own right way. One woman’s clutter is another’s pile of beloved books or baskets of baby sweaters still to be knitted.

While some people do their best work with a completely bare desk, others want favorite personal items nearby for inspiration and comfort. Still others want to work at Starbuck’s with the white noise of a crowd all around. There is no one right way. It’s whatever suits you best. Whatever increases your centeredness and therefore your productivity.

Ask yourself if the space makes you feel calm or annoyed, focused or anxious. What about it is getting in the way of your peace of mind? And is now the right time to attend to the distraction and put things in order.

If a mess is keeping you from your top priority you have a choice– deal with it or come up with a creative solution like my brother-in-law, Steve, did.

At the time, my sister Jennifer was working in a high-stress job. She loved to come home to a clean and tidy kitchen where all the surfaces were empty and everything was put away. Steve was working from home at the time and they had divided the tasks so that cleaning the kitchen was his responsibility.

One day Jennifer came home and was delighted to see that the kitchen was just as she wanted. She relaxed and came to thank Steve for his good work. He responded, “Did you ever notice that there’s very little difference between DID the dishes and HID the dishes?” Then he took her to the bathroom, pulled back the shower curtain and showed her that all of the kitchen clutter had been removed from sight and hidden in the tub.

That’s a short-term solution of course but it did have the desired effect. The environment supported her positive inner state.

One last piece of advice is to get rid of anything you hate—that not quite comfortable chair you’re tolerating, the desk that snags your stockings all the time, the objet d’art that your mother-in-law gave you that gives you the creeps. Anything that gives you a little tug of yuck every time you look at it or think about it. Get it out of there. It’s not worth the drain on your energy.

Design your workspace keeping in mind how you want to feel when you’re there. Does it support your best work? If not, what needs to change?

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