Lessons From My Year of Decluttering

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Earlier this year I told you I had begun a process of clearing both physical and mental clutter in my life. This has been quite a big undertaking, but I am on the other side of it. Life feels much easier and lighter. I want to share what I've learned about clutter (no matter what kind) and how you can begin to address yours.

What Is Clutter?

Most of us think of clutter in the physical sense — for example, a pile of papers on your desk or a closet full of outdated clothes that don’t fit anymore. But let’s take a look at a much broader definition.

  • Clutter can be anything that drains your energy, whether that's a messy physical environment or a relationship that depletes you.

  • Clutter encompasses what you keep tolerating and allowing to frustrate you. This could range from a repair job that you keep putting off to bad habits that you know you need to change to perpetual underperformance from team members or ongoing issues in your other work or personal relationships.

  • Clutter can include remnants of the past or parts of your life, personal or professional, that just don't fit anymore.

  • No matter what form clutter takes, it can distract you, deplete your energy and affect how you “show up” with others every day.

Managing Relationship Clutter

As I examined the clutter in my own life, tackling my physical environment was easy. I cleared stuff out of my house, replaced the old, drafty front and back doors, installed new porch lights and got a new yard service. Essentially, I got rid of all the visual reminders of what didn’t work, which released some of my mental capacity for other things.

The next step was to look at my relationships, which was much thornier work. When you have to continue interacting with people you find draining, things get a bit more complicated. It’s not as easy as tossing out old magazines!

You can, however, take steps to minimize the impact of these relationships:

  • Think about both how a particular relationship serves you and how it's holding you back. Get clear about the one or two reasons you want to stay engaged in this relationship. This will allow you to be more intentional about the choice you are making to continue the relationship and why.

  • Next, identify one thing you could do differently with this challenging person that would allow you to maintain your relationship and your energy. Experiment with setting boundaries for yourself. For example, you could shift your interaction to more phone calls vs. in-person meetings, shorten the time you interact or change the cadence of how often you interact.

  • Identify at least one way to restore yourself after you have to spend time with a frustrating or energy-draining person. For example, if you know a colleague that sets you off will be at a meeting, plan to do something energizing right before or after. It can be something as simple as taking a quick walk. Focus on what works for you.

  • Start taking steps to address underperformance that feels exhausting to deal with. Check out my previous blog post on how to stop tolerating ongoing performance issues in your team.

Declutter Your Behavior

You might discover, though, that the most damaging clutter in your life isn't in your physical environment or your relationships, but rather in your mindset or behavior. If this resonates for you, review these resources to leave your limitations behind:

  • Notice your "thinking traps." These affect your stress level and confidence.

  • Identify one or two behaviors that undermine your executive presence. This could include acting as you did in a past position instead of adopting new practices to help you succeed in your current role. For example, I see leaders involved in far too many details and failing to delegate and more fully leverage their teams. Or they fail to recognize that how you get results is just as important as the results themselves.

  • Take a look at my products and services, which will give you many more resources to draw on when you're looking to make lasting change.

No matter what area of your life you want to declutter, remember to enlist support from people who understand your goals and give you energy.

I want to challenge you to identify one thing you will do this week to start decluttering.  And remember that small steps can lead to big results.