Decluttering your desk, decluttering your mind!

I remember an analogy that my dad gave me when I was in the fourth grade.  One evening, on coming back from work, he asked me to come to the kitchen. He picked up a large jar (for water) and started filling it.  His gaze was transfixed at the water that was rushing to the brim. There was no sign of any hand movement towards the tap.


What was this experiment, he was conducting? An early introduction to grade six science? Or Maybe teaching me the value of conservation – after all in India, various villages across the country had severe water shortage. So maybe, it was a vital lesson on not taking something for granted?


Water started pouring out, and then he looked at me and said – your mind is like this jar. It has phenomenal capacity, but it also has a finite capacity. So, the more you fill in, the more you have to let go. I was guilty as charged. I had a phenomenal memory, but I would use it to rhapsodize cricket stats and what was the best dialogue in the Val Kilmer Batman movie (yes, this was back in 1997). In the sense, trying his best to convey that I should use my memory bank for the essential elements (school work) over the trivial. Ergo a cluttered mind, would ensue if I wasn’t careful!


In some ways, our desks at work (even home offices) can be a metaphoric representation for our minds. We may have digitized in the last decade, but there is no dearth of bills lying around, post-it reminders, calendars from last year, pens that don’t work, pencils without lead, wedding & baby-shower invitations and motivation posters from Hallmark that ironically are meant to inspire us, but only add on to our clutter.


Ross Swan has seen many cases throughout his three-decade experience as a coach. One such case that befuddled him was an executive he was called to help out. The problem at first wasn’t clear, why wasn’t he punching above his weight? He didn’t have a temperament issue. He certainly was competent and qualified. On entering his office, Ross was almost overwhelmed to see the voluminous load of things on his desk. It was perhaps a motley mix of a teenager’s room and a garage sale.


Ross began to realize that his desk was an accurate representation for the number of things he had going on his head. He would note things down but forget about them. At times, he would procrastinate or just be overwhelmed with too many things to tackle that he wouldn’t tackle them effectively. Funnily enough, we assume everything we have in our offices and on our desk, is important, and that’s why they are there. But Ross found that, on one day when the client was out of the office, he got two assistants familiar with his office to clean the clutter, and needless to say the client found that he had accumulated more than he needed. Accumulating clutter at times precludes cleaning clutter, since we have so much to go through, that we end up procrastinating. Lo and behold, till that time has passed, we only accumulate more clutter and so the vicious cycle ensues.


Needless to say our sub-conscious minds dominate our lives. According to researchers, our minds are on auto-pilot mode, 95% of the time! Ergo, it’s always easy to diagnose the problem, even if it seems ‘elementary’ to Sherlock Holmes.  Hence signs like a cluttered desk, which is an everyday visible occurrence reinforce the diagnosis that it is something more profound rather than trivial.


You can start by decluttering your desk, it will automatically force you to declutter your mind.


About the author, Joy

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