Spring has traditionally been the time of year when we clean out the old and prepare our spaces for the coming warmer and brighter weather, when we look for those spring cleaning tips to help us get both our bodies and minds moving in accordance with the freshness of the season.
Spring cleaning dates back many centuries to a time when the spring clean was done to clean out the soot left by oil lamps and fires used to light and warm homes in the winter. Many religions and cultures have used the spring and approaching Easter to clean alters and begin the new religious year.
These days, of course, we don’t rely on oil lamps and fires in every room to keep our homes warm, but we can still use this old tradition to clean up our stuff and prepare ourselves for what awaits in the rest of the year((Current Psychology: Procrastinators and Clutter: An Ecological View of Living with Excessive Stuff)).
Apart from physical items, over the previous year (or years!) you will have collected a lot of files, documents, notes, and other such things that are just gathering digital dust somewhere on your hard drives or cloud storage systems, and spring is a great time to clean these up, archive the old, and delete a lot more.
A spring clean has many more benefits than just leaving you with a clean environment in which to live and work. It can also provide you with a massive boost to your productivity. Here are five spring cleaning tips to help you become a lot more productive.
1. Focus on Building Energy and Reducing Stress
There’s something special about working in a clean, distraction-free environment. Arriving at your work station and seeing a fresh table with no leftover files, coffee mugs, or papers and a computer with nothing on the desktop except your wallpaper immediately puts you into work mode. Seeing such cleanliness can give you a motivational boost and prepare your mind for a day of quality, distraction-free work.
Spring allows us to take a look at our work station and remove the clutter. Clear out old pens and pencils that either do not work or have become so small there’s hardly a grip left to hold. Throw away dead plants and ornaments that no longer have any meaning to you.
Go into your desk drawers and empty everything out. Get yourself a large refuse bag and throw away all those old, half-used notebooks, PostIt notes, refills, paper clips, batteries, and cables you no longer use (or have devices for). Once all your drawers are empty, wipe them out with a damp cloth and only put back the items you know you will need. Allow yourself only one notebook and one stack of PostIt notes.
Finally, once everything is cleaned out, wipe down all your surfaces with a damp cloth: your desk surface, the front and back of your computer, keyboard and other peripherals. Then sit back and admire your work.
When doing all of this, focus on keeping the things that improve your focus and give you positive energy. Throw out or get rid of anything that causes clutter and the resulting stress. This simple rule will help you know what needs to stay and go.
Also, try not to do your spring cleaning when you’re already a bit stressed. Go into the cleaning with a positive outlook, excited for how the space will look after.
2. Attack Your Emails Ruthlessly
We collect a lot of emails over the years, and we leave them in our archive folders or individual folders we added to manage a project or a heavy email exchange with a colleague or business partner. The trouble is we rarely clean these out and delete them, so they build up over time.
If you find you haven’t looked at a particular email or had a use for it in the last year, it probably isn’t worth keeping. If you find a certain email has an important password or a recipe you really don’t want to delete, find another place to store it.
Cleaning up your email not only makes you feel better; it also speeds up your whole system, which ultimately improves your overall productivity. Be courageous and delete, delete, and delete some more.
If you want to save an email because it has some sentimental value to you, you can export it as a PDF and keep it in a folder on your hard drive or cloud drive called “keepsakes” or “memories.” That way, it’s outside your email, but you still have a copy of it.
A quick tip for these keepsake or memory folders: review them each year when you do your spring cleaning. After another year has passed, you may be surprised by how unimportant some of these emails, photos, and documents have become.
Once you have cleaned up and deleted your old emails, take a little time to review your folder (or categories) structure. Ask yourself if the way you manage your email is the most effective way to do so. With the powerful search abilities of most email applications today, you no longer need complex folder structures.
This mindset you develop for emails can also be applied to your home office. Go through your old papers. Why are you keeping them? Are they really important? If they are genuinely important for whatever reason, consider scanning them into a hard drive. You’ll be amazed by how much physical space this creates in your home.
3. Learn to Let Go
The hardest part of decluttering and cleaning up is letting go. We have this false belief that we will need a file or a document sometime in the future, yet we rarely do. If you clean up and move stuff off to an external hard drive, you have not lost anything. It’s still there. It’s now on an external hard drive and no longer taking up space on your computer or in your cloud storage. Just let it go. Once you’ve bought the external hard drive, it does not cost you anything to keep it.
This can be a bit more difficult with physical items. Many people have a particular space, such as a basement, attic, or closet, where they put all those things they might want to have access to in the future. In the end, that closet door rarely gets opened. How much would you really miss those items if you opened it one day to find it was all gone? Try to look at your objects with an objective eye and decide if they’re really worth your time and space.
If this is very difficult for you, start with one meaningful item each day. This should be something that you may have some attachment to but that isn’t serving you in any way. Once you’ve let go of several items, you’ll find it hurts less each time.
4. Find What Works For You
There are multiple ways to organize your stuff; the trick is to find a way that works for the way your mind organizes the world. When it comes to files, for some, organizing by year works. For others, organizing by client or project works best. During your spring cleaning process, think carefully about how you would naturally search for something and then develop a structure that fits.
Some people are naturally more strict about the organization of their environment. If this is you, don’t fight it. Buy some baskets or shelves or tubs that will help you put everything exactly where it needs to be. Put labels or use a Sharpie to be able to quickly identify things.
Other people are more open-minded about where things go. You may not need formal organization, so just find a nice place for that chair your great grandma gave you or that little trinket your sister brought you back from Europe. If it feels right and helps you create a positive environment, run with it.
Ultimately, it’s about being able to find stuff when you need to find it. If you copy someone else’s structure, there will be a good chance it will fail because you will think very differently from the person you are copying. Find your own path.
5. Keep It Simple
Always do your best to keep things as simple as possible. When you file today, you need to be filing for your forgetful self tomorrow. It might be fantastic to come up with an elaborate organization system, but in three or five years, you will probably be unable to remember how you were organizing things before.
Don’t worry about extensive computer folders with 20 sub-folders or buying that fancy cabinet that can store 100 different types of yarn. You can organize things with exactly what you have at this moment just by being creative and open to the circumstances.
Having a clean, well-organized working environment makes finding stuff easy; it helps to give your clarity and makes your whole work experience much more enjoyable. When you are in that state, you will find your overall productivity increases, and you become a lot less stressed and overwhelmed. It’s spring, so let’s get started!
More Tips on Spring Cleaning
- Simple Steps for Tackling Spring Cleaning, Room-by-Room
- Cleanse: Spring Cleaning for Your Body and Your Mind
- 10 Things to Do With Spring Cleaning Junk