Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Praise of Doing Nothing

Tip of the Week, August 8 and 15, 2010

I often compare organizing to two other good-for-you but not always fun pursuits: eating well and exercising regularly. Like both of those good habits, organizing isn't something you can do once and be done with; instead, it's a practice you do over time, bit by bit, until it becomes a regular part of your life, and a task you have to spend much less time on than you might have when you were just getting started.

There's another important way in which organizing is like healthy eating and exercise: in order to avoid burnout, backsliding, or feeling utterly overwhelmed, it's important to take a break from it time and again. Never allowing yourself even a single sweet when you're trying to eat well can result in a chocolate binge when you reach the point at which you can no longer resist your cravings, and trying to hit the gym for 90 or more minutes every day when you're aiming to get more exercise can cause exhaustion, injury, and perhaps the desire never to see the inside of a gym again.

In the same way, trying to do something organizing-related every single day can be overwhelming, boring, or burnout-inducing. Yes, it's important to make organizing a regular habit, whether that means keeping an eye out for clutter, taking the time each day to review your calendar and to do list, or spending 5 minutes putting things away at the end of the day.

But it's just as important to let yourself take a complete break from time to time. Think of it as the organizing equivalent of having an ice cream cone after a week of good eating or doing nothing more grueling than lounging in a hammock in the midst of a month of regular physical activity.

A Late Summer Break
For me, late summer is the perfect time to take such a break. Now, when the weather is still warm, the days are still long, and the start of school or a return to work is looming on the horizon, I encourage you to let yourself go, organizationally speaking, for a few days.

That doesn't mean going wild on QVC or letting your desk at work get totally overwhelming or neglecting basic sanity-maintaining tasks at home (like doing the dishes or tossing obvious junk mail into the recycling). Rather, it means not worrying for a few days about the lurking chaos in your garage or what's happening behind your hall closet door or in your kids' play area, not fretting about upcoming projects on your task list or upcoming events on your calendar, and paying no heed to thoughts about reorganizing your junk drawer or rejiggering your filing system.

There will be plenty of time come next month--or even next week--to tackle all of those organizing projects. Taking a break now means you'll likely be more inspired to do them, will have a different perspective on them, and will give yourself the chance to recharge so you'll be more energetic when it comes time to deal with them.

So take a day or two this week to go off the grid organizationally, and instead use the time you might've spent sorting and weeding or rearranging or rescheduling or planning or worrying to spend time outside, finish off that guilty pleasure book you've been meaning to read, sitting in front of your air conditioner with a cold drink, or doing whatever else puts you at ease and makes you happy. For a little while, the organizing can wait.