Cleaning vs Tidying

cleandeskFor most people cleaning and tidying mean the same thing.  Both are about bringing order to a space.  However, there is a subtle but important difference between the words that can be transformational.  In fact, it is not possible to clean successfully without tidying first!

Let’s break it down.  Cleaning in one context simply means to remove dirt, dust, and other grime.  The other definition is that cleaning means to put objects back into drawers, closets, or other designated areas when we are done using them.  Unfortunately, if the objects do not have a designated storage space they will be placed in the first available space.  This can create an ongoing underlying tension as the items are never truly cleaned up, only constantly rearranged.

Tidying happens when a space is cleared of clutter and the remaining objects are assigned a designated place.  Once a place is assigned for each item the act of cleaning simply returns them to their proper home.   This understanding is important to the secret of successful implementation of any organization system, whether it be GTD in the office or Konmari at home.  The act of tidying is a conscious and deliberate effort to set up a space and everything in it.  After that is done, all that remains is to maintain it at that standard.

So, remember this simple formula to success in organization: tidy once – clean regularly.


How Disney Trash Cans Relate to Efficiency

disneyLiving in Florida means that I occasionally visit Disney World.  If you have been to a Disney park, there is something that you might not have noticed, mostly because it is not there – TRASH!  Disney parks are kept to a very high cleanliness standard.  Walt Disney himself observed that if trash is left accumulate, it will quickly sour the experience.  He figured out that by keeping garbage cans no more than 30 feet apart, the public would naturally throw out their trash.

So, what does this have to do with efficiency?  David Allen used this fact as a jumping off point for an observation on his blog about how keeping a high standard is actually easier to maintain than it would first seem.

“That’s true around our houses and offices, too. If you’ve already broken the code, and left unclarified, unorganized “stuff” lying around, you’ll easily (let’s say even automatically and unconsciously) leave more of it.

“When my inbox is at zero, it’s so much easier to keep it cleaned up. As soon as it starts to get semi-out-of-control, the chaos seems to speed up exponentially. …

“Keeping things sorted makes it a heck of a lot easier to keep on keeping things sorted.”

Read the rest on the Getting Things Done blog.

WorkLife with Adam Grant: A TED original podcast

How come every office environment seems to run in the same routine patterns?  Is there any innovation out there designed to make our work lives more rewarding and enjoyable?  There certainly is! I have been listening to a very entertaining podcast that explores the  horizons made possible when people re-imagine the office.  It is presented by Professor Adam Grant, bestselling author of Originals and Give & Take.  The podcast is called WorkLife and it mission is as follows:

AdamGrant_2016-headshot_preview“You spend a quarter of your life at work, so shouldn’t you enjoy it? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant takes you inside some of the world’s most unusual workplaces to discover the keys to better work. Whether you’re learning how to love criticism or trust a co-worker you can’t stand, one thing’s for sure: You’ll never see your job the same way again.”

In brisk episodes of about 30 minutes in length, Grant’s podcast made for easy and inviting listening.  In particular I enjoyed the episode exploring how introverts and extroverts can function successfully in the workplace, which featured an interview with Susan Cain, author of Quiet.  Visit the TED website to learn more about the series and download episodes.

Get Organized With P.A.R.A.

forte“Imagine for a moment the perfect organizational system. One that supported and enhanced the work you do, telling you exactly where to put a piece of information, and exactly where to find it when you needed it. … I believe I’ve developed a system for organizing digital information that meets all these requirements. After several years of introducing it to a wide variety of people, I’m confident that it works. In this post I will attempt to show you how.”

With those words, Tiago Forte introduces readers to the P.A.R.A. method of organization.  The system name is short for its four constituent components:

  • Projects
  • Areas
  • Resources
  • Archives

Although most of Tiago’s blog is members only access, he recently made this very popular post free for all to view.   Be aware that this post is the first in a series, so membership would be needed to see beyond it.  However, this one stands as a full overview on its own, which is why I highly recommend the read.

The KonMari of Charles Duhigg

mariekondoCharles Duhigg is a best selling author of two great books on productivity and efficiency: The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better.  Late last year he was interviewed on the KonMari web site, the online home of Marie Kondo, best known for her best seller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

In the interview, Charles was asked about how physical environments help shape our habits.  His response was enlightening:

charlesduhigg“Physical organization has a huge impact on how we work. For example, I have a habit of taking the pile of paper on my desk and cleaning it out before I work. When my physical surrounding is organized, I feel like my thinking is organized as well. Some people say they find that when they are doing creative work, some clutter on the desk can make them feel more productive. There is no one set way to be productive at work – the physical space primarily works as a cue to a habit, like getting to work in a productive mindset.”

Read the rest of the interview at on the KonMari web site.

How Specific Is Your Next Action?

Do you have a project that has sat on your plate for a while?  Perhaps a home repair that never seems to get completed or the office redesign that is caught in perpetual limbo.  Odds are the reason this project lacks momentum is because the time has not been taken to carefully consider the next physical action needed to move it forward.

action-arrowPhysical actions are visible to other people such as calling someone on the phone, typing an email, drafting a memo, or talking to a colleague.  A common trap is to believe that “thinking” about an item is a next action.  Thinking could be part of a next action if that process is accompanied by a physical movement to capture the ideas, such as drawing a mind map.

Last week I met Andy Aichele, the new Organizational Learning and Development Manager for the Columbus Metropolitan Library and a certified GTD trainer.  He shared an effective way to think about how to create effective next actions.  The approach is to imagine delegating the action to someone else. Would they be able to understand and complete the action based on how you described it?

To practice this approach, the next time you develop a next action consider how you would describe it to another person.  If you could delegate it effectively to others, then you should be able to compete it yourself.  Projects only move forward through physical actions so be careful to effectively and clearly draft your next step.


Do you ever feel like you are being pulled in many different directions, chasing multiple, ill-defined goals?  This modern age of attention we live in is designed to draw people towards the latest, flashiest item or trend.  It makes our work lives seem hectic and unfulfilled, much like walking on a treadmill, where we take lots of steps but never get anywhere.  Is there a path out of this trap?

I recently read aessentialism book that provides an answer to this dilemma.  In Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown outlines a lifestyle that emphasizes finding the most important things to do and only focusing energy on those priorities.  On his web site, he describes Essentialism in this way:

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.”

To learn more about the Way of the Essentialist, visit Greg’s web site or check out the book from your local library.