One thing David Allen teaches in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is the importance of Getting Clear. Let me tell you, I am not clear right now. Life creeps up and soon the tidal wave of “stuff” overtakes me. As you can see from the picture I took just before sitting down to write, I have a problem.
Getting Clear means to have an organized space in which to work, both physically and mentally. Clearly I am failing on the physical front. If I could take a picture of my mental space, it would probably look much like my desk. I have let things go. In their great book, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition), Tom DeMarco and Timoth Lister discusses how much clear space a person needs to perform work. They say an office should have 100 square feet of clear desk space. While I have never had the luxury of 100 sq. feet, I think I am currently operating on two, just so I have a place to put my elbows while typing.
How does one get clear? The best way is to get a box or a basket. Everything goes into the box first. Even garbage. Why? The act of putting everything in the box does two things: it gets the desk clear immediately and it puts everything in a stack, a natural order for being dealt with one at a time. I remember as a kid when my mother would decide to attack her desk. She would clean for two days straight, just trying to find a few inches of clear space. If she would have moved everything to boxes (it would have taken much more than one), she could have had the space she wanted immediately and not of had to shift papers around constantly, looking for a place to put things while cleaning.
Once everything is in a box, take out the top item and decide what to do with it. Does it need action? Filing? Disposal? Do it and move on to the next. One beauty of the box is this part does not need to be done in one sitting. The box will obediently sit to the side, waiting for the next opportunity. Meanwhile, the desk is clear, inviting Great Work.
Getting clear mentally works a little differently. I do a mind sweep. Get a pad of paper, a good pen or pencil and a comfortable chair. Start writing everything on the mind, every thought, to do item, commitment or random musing. Write as fast as possible and let the mind vomit up everything that is piled around. Don’t worry about order, priority or clarity. Get it down. When the ideas stop flowing, get up, stretch, take a quick walk around the house, garage, yard or office. Take the pad of paper with. Something along the way will trigger some more things. Write those down as well. Consider all the people in your life. What do you owe them? That will trigger more thoughts.
Like the desk, it may take more than one session to get totally clear. Just keep at it. No doubt there will be pages filled. Don’t despair. The more pages you have, the more clear you will be and it will feel great. The pages will be filled with the myriad of commitments floating around, clogging up the pathways of the mind, getting in the way of accomplishing the important tasks. They will be out of your head where they can be dealt with methodically.
Once the mind is clear, the pages can be organized, prioritized and divided into task lists for getting things done. Just remember they don’t all have to be done today, tomorrow or even next week. Some of the items may never get done. I put most of these items on a Someday/Maybe list. It’s okay. They are on a list, out of the head, stored for later. When the time is right, I’ll pull them off a list and do them.
Getting Clear is one of the most refreshing experiences I have ever experienced. I have to do this exercise occasionally. I should be doing it weekly in my Weekly Review session, but that has been sliding off my plan for a few weeks. When that happens, I have to get drastic; I have to get clear. When I do, it is one of the best feelings around. Try it. I’m willing to be you’ll like it.