Clear, Organized and Motivated

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The Clear Mind and the Box in the Garage

Here's why a "maybe later" list is the key to a clear mind.

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In the last post we looked at a procedure for getting a clear mind, and I emphasized the need to get absolutely everything out of your mind, and onto a piece of paper, so you can sort those items into three lists: “delete”, “to be done”, and “maybe later”.

In this post I want to highlight the importance of the "maybe later" category in this process.

There are some who will claim that you need only two lists: “to be done” and “delete”. They’ll tell you that, with every item you process, you should “Only Handle It Once” (OHIO).  And they might even add: “If in doubt, throw it out.”

But this is wrong. The maybe later list is actually worth its weight in gold. With a maybe later list you can sort your thoughts with little effort. Without one, the process can cause you to pull your hair out.

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Organizing Stuff Can Be Exhausting

The same holds for sorting physical “stuff”.

When children collect too much stuff in their rooms, it's tough to keep them clean.

If your kids are anything like mine, they will resist suggestions to get rid of things. They’ll say, “I might still want to play with that.” They might even start playing with the toy in question right then and there.

An hour-long task stretches into days.

If the child keeps the toy, she can still play with it, and it will continue cluttering the room. If she gives it away, it will clear up space for more important things, but she won’t be able to play with it any longer.

These are difficult choices. The child is being asked to make decision after decision like this. And we wonder why the child gets squirrely and distracted? After a while, they’ve burned through their supply of decision-facilitating neurotransmitters, and they can’t focus any longer.

This phenomenon has a name: "decision fatigue."

But there's an easy solution for this.

The "Box in the Garage" Solution

If you have room to store some of their stuff in a box in the garage (or basement, or attic), then you can simply tell the child to make three piles: 1) stuff to keep, 2) stuff to get rid of, and 3) stuff to put in the box in the garage.

You assure them that the box will be out there, and if they ever need something that’s in it, they’re free to go get it.

Now the child can process their stuff at a much faster pace. There’s no agony. And their rule becomes: “if in doubt, put it in the box”.

And the dirty little secret…they will almost never go out and retrieve anything from the box in the garage. A year later, they’ll gladly give most of it away.

The Maybe Later List is Your "Box in the Garage"

In our "Clear Mind Procedure," the “maybe later” category is your “box in the garage”.

It’s what allows you to sort your items quickly.

When you put a thought on the maybe later list, the idea will be there if you need it. It’s in a safe place. But, as with the box in the garage, the dirty little secret is that you’ll almost never go back to your maybe later list to put things back on your plate. 

And here’s the best part. No one can tell you there’s no room for another “box in the garage”. Whether you keep your maybe later list on paper, or in an electronic format, there will always be more room in the box.

So, whenever you do the Clear Mind Procedure, and it’s time to sort all the items you’ve written down, delete the obvious, keep the obvious, and then make this your rule:

“If in doubt, put it on the maybe later list”.

Follow that procedure any time you're feeling overwhelmed, and you'll be free and clear in no time.

Jim Stone, Ph.D. is a philosopher, avid student of Motivational Psychology, and developer of personal productivity software and workshops.  

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