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The Time Finder: Finding Time in Your Day to Declutter

Every year in October, millions of writers prepare for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In his guide for writing a full 50,000 words during these hectic 30 days, No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty recommends people write down how they spend their time for a few days and search for tasks and activities that can be curtailed during their writing marathon in the month of November.

In general, the best tidying and organizing is done little by little on a consistent basis, or one project at a time, not in marathon stretches. Good daily habits are what will stick and make a real difference in the long run. And, more importantly, mammoth efforts often give us a sense that we have earned the right to take a break from good habits and/or reassure us that it doesn't matter if we let things get out of hand, because we can eventually just pull another all-weekend decluttering session and put everything to right again. That said, the same tool that helps writers find time to churn out page after page every November can help declutterers make time to bring order to their homes.

Baty's Time Finder is simple. First, record everything you do throughout the day using a simple chart. I've shown here part of the sample provided in Baty's book, and you'll see that some tasks have a little explanation or extra detail (or bit of humor).

Be as specific and honest as you can. Since you'll be looking for time in your day on a more permanent basis, as opposed to just a month, I recommend you record the way you spend your time for at least four days. Make sure at least one of these days is on the weekend. The more data you have, the better the Time Finder will work. (The same way people get used to cameras and audiences over time, you'll also get used to be observed by yourself as time goes on. After a couple of days, you'll be less likely to adjust your behavior so you look good on paper. You'll be able to see where the time goes fairly accurately.)

Next, look for habits and tasks you can scuttle from your day to make time for decluttering and organizing. Target:

  • Activities that seem to take up more time than they should

  • Tasks that can be delegated to others

  • Work tasks that are eating away at your downtime

  • Excess time spent on your digital life that takes away from from your actual life

Try to leave in place your healthiest habits and anything that contributes to your self care or productivity. For example, maybe you go out to dinner a lot or often spend time in a local coffee shop reading and texting friends. If these habits help you feel connected with others and a little more relaxed, stick with them.

Write down changes you plan to make. We're used to being told to get specific when setting goals ("Limit Netflix to two hour-long episodes per night" as opposed to "Watch less Netflix.") But it's also important to frame our goals in positive terms. Avoiding words like "stop" and "no" and "don't" puts us in a better of frame of mind and helps us to focus on what we are doing, instead of what we have to stop doing. For example, write "Watch Youtube videos for 20 minutes or less" instead of "No more Youtube rabbit holes" or "Don't watch more than 20 minutes of Youtube." You don't need to lecture yourself, you need to reframe how you spend your time. (Keep this in mind when you are asking others to take on a task for you, too.)

Aim for finding at least 30 to 45 minutes in your day. You don't need to spend all of this time on decluttering; some of your newfound time can be spent preventing additional clutter from accumulating, gaining control over tasks that contribute to your clutter (laundry, taking care of the mail, reading The New Yorker, meal planning) or bringing life to your space (hanging family photos, buying and caring for plants, decorating for a holiday or season, knitting a blanket).

Once you've found your time -- start using it! Set a timer to help you stick with your goals. Make the most of your time by putting on your favorite music and treating yourself to a beverage of your choice while you work.

Keep in mind the advice of Thich Nhat Hanh: "The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness” and you'll enjoy yourself along the way.

Happy Tidying!

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