“Nature does abhor a vacuum, and when you begin moving out of your life what you do not want, you automatically are making way for what you do want.”—Catherine Ponder
It’s the beginning of a new year — the perfect time to de-clutter your workstation and mind for 2021. Disorganized and cluttered living and work spaces can make life chaotic and stressful, especially in an already-stressful time as remote working has become routine. Clutter can become a roadblock to finding what you need, cutting into valuable work hours and adding another level of frustration when you have a deadline. You might even find your productivity wanes as stress levels rise, and you bounce from one task to another, paralyzed by where to begin.
After a long day when you’re trying to relax, the last thing you want are visual reminders of half-baked projects staring you in the face. If you’re like most people, your mind is on powering down, and you’re looking for visual rest, not on where you placed your cell phone. When your work space is uncluttered, visually appealing and functioning smoothly, your life is calmer. There’s something freeing and peaceful when things are in their place, the kitchen bar is free of junk mail and dishes are off countertops, stacked in the dishwasher. Order conveys a feeling of calm and stability — a feeling that things are under control and all is right with the world.
Creating a Vacuum
There’s an old saying attributed to the philosopher Aristotle that nature abhors a vacuum. It’s simple physics that no true vacuum exists in nature. If you dig a hole in your backyard, it will fill up with dirt or debris in time. When someone vacates a position at work, someone else will fill it. By the same token when you get rid of what you no longer want or need, you create a vacuum that makes room for something else to take its place. This principle has implications for both the physical and mental plane. Most of us have an easier time holding on to what we have instead of letting go of objects, thoughts or relationships we’ve outgrown.
Clearing your workstation of irrelevant or unwanted objects is important for productivity and career success but removing unwanted thoughts and bad habits that no longer serve you is equally important. Once you’re ready to de-clutter, take an inventory of your workspace clutter, plus unproductive or limiting career thoughts that accompany them and organize them into four categories:
- 1. Keep: The keeper objects are all the essentials you use on a regular basis to do your job and keep your life on an even keel. The keeper thoughts are those that keep you calm, clear-headed, balanced and focused and the healthy habits that cultivate resilience and advance your career. Keeper routines might be the things you do for self-care — your yoga practice or mindfulness meditation along with ample rest, regular exercise and healthy nutrition. It helps to identify your strengths and limitations (without self-condemnation), so you’re more mindful of what is conducive to or impeding your productivity and advancement.
- 2. Toss: It’s hard to part with your “little darlings” — the irrelevant items you promised you’d use but didn’t. Fess up and discard unused items this past year that are not worth recycling or donating: that 10-year-old toaster you’ve kept in case the new one fizzles out, the stack of magazines from 2001, the dinosaur iPad that they don’t make parts for anymore or the melted candle stored in the attic. Along with these items, if you’re like most people, you have “little darling” thoughts and behaviors that you have clung to that no longer serve you. Consider letting go of old habits, negative thoughts, and worn-out actions that have stymied your self-esteem and hampered your career. Consider what character traits you’re willing to drop that have impeded your advancement such as harsh judgments, unrealistic expectations, a controlling nature, inability to delegate, or difficulty working as a team member.
- 3. Recycle: Keep a recycling bin close by for plastics, glass, metals, paper, and cardboard that are no longer useful but wasteful and potentially damaging to the environment. Along with the recycled items, consider what thoughts need re-framing to improve your productivity. Maybe you used to think you had to work 24/7 to reach your goals, but now you realize you’re more productive when you take time out to recharge your batteries. If you’re used to focusing on negative details of the job, maybe it’s time to enlarge your perspective. Instead of over-focusing on what you haven’t accomplished, you could widen your perspective to include the big picture of how far you’ve come. You might even re-think the aspects of your job that you dislike and see if you can find positive aspects that drew you to begin with.
- 4. Donate: Consider parting with belongings that you enjoyed and are still usable but that you no longer need. Maybe you bought a new laptop, and your old one is in perfect working condition. Have a special bin for those items and donate them to Goodwill, Salvation Army or other charity. Along with donated objects, consider what thoughts and career information are valuable that might be useful to someone else. Perhaps you donate time with an employee assistance program at work, get involved with a discussion group to prevent job burnout or take a new co-worker under your wing and share the perspectives, feelings and actions that have advanced your career.
New Gates and Doorways
January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways. Two back-to-back heads symbolize Janus, signifying that he is looking backward and forward at the same time. As you look backwards and forward, you can find many starting gates and doorways to open for the New Year. Are you ready to inventory all the unusable objects and unworkable habits that have crowded your mind and workspace? After you’ve looked back and said goodbye to items on the physical plane and old habits on the mental plane, look forward to changes you can make to begin anew. Think about what you want to replace from your own doorway in 2021: better work habits, a slower pace, more harmonious relationships, a healthier lifestyle, a stretch outside your comfort zone, or an overall more positive outlook. Keep what works, toss what doesn’t, recycle what you can change and donate in ways you can give back.