Small Things Add Up. And:
A lot of productivity books give advice like this: “If cleaning out your garage (or closet, or some other organizing task) seems overwhelming to you, just do it for ten minutes a day. That way it’s not overwhelming, and since small things add up, after a few weeks it will be all done.”
It’s not likely that I’ll give that kind of advice very often.
I agree very much that small things add up. We should absolutely maximize that concept in our lives. For example, exercising just 30 minutes a day adds up and pretty soon you’re in shape and maintaining pretty good health. Reading 30 minutes every night before bed adds up and pretty soon you’ll find that you’re getting through almost two books a month. Being a decent person, day after day, makes a difference.
So small things, done consistently, make a big difference.
But you have to be very selective in applying that idea to things like organizing your garage or getting that closet cleaned out.
The reason is that things like trying to clean out your garage a little each day create a productivity complexity. When are you going to do it? How are you going to remember to do it? It’s hard enough to protect sufficient time to play with the kids after work. And you’re going to remember to spend 10 minutes cleaning out the garage every day as well. Really?
Maybe you would. The problem is this: Small things add up, and you can only have so many small things going on at once.
Many of the productivity books fail to take the second part of that truth into account, and as a result they start suggesting that you apply this principle to all sorts of non-routine projects. Are your files disorganized? Purge a little every day. Hate that closet? Do something to improve it every day. Desk cluttered? Find ways to improve the organization every day. Sock drawer messy? Fix it a bit every day. Pretty soon, you’ve got a thousand “small things” that you are trying to do every day.
That’s why I don’t give advice like that. If your sock drawer needs organized, do it in one shot. If your garage needs organized, the mental gear-shifting it would take to do a little every day would be extremely inefficient, given all the factors involved. So block off 2 hours and do that in one shot.
I think, when it comes to organizational tasks like these, the reason they seem overwhelming is not that they are large, but because we don’t know how. If you don’t have any idea how to organize your garage, you won’t want to do it. So a better approach than doing a little bit every day when you still don’t know what you’re really doing is to first learn how (by looking at a book like Organizing for Dummies) and then block off the time to do it in one shot. And I would apply this to all those other projects that the organization books recommend doing “a little at a time.”
The result will be that you have less “moving parts” going on in your life, and you can then truly apply the “small things done consistently” principle to the things that matter most. Be gracious to people, every day, in the small things as well as the large. Exercise every day. Read at least 30 minutes every day.
And, once that garage is picked up, keep it from getting disorganized again by putting things back where they belong right away and straightening it up as soon as you notice something out of order.