An easy way to reduce this 4-inch pile of mail

I love to read organizing tips, and there are some great ones out there. For example, there’s the famous two-minute rule offered by Getting Things Done guru David Allen. This rule advises you to get those random calls and tasks off your list first thing in the morning—as long as each one will take no more than two minutes. Fellow PT blogger Gretchen Rubin uses a "power hour" each week to demolish those one-time chores that stick to your to-do list.

But there is one tip that has not only saved me both time and frustration; it has also helped me add focus to my work day.  Ever since I read this advice about 7 years ago, I’ve probably saved roughly 30-40 minutes a week by terminating an activity that was frittering away my precious time. And the entire process was painless.

The tip that has been such a great time-saver is this:

Stop aimlessly flipping through catalogues.  (There are exceptions to this rule, which I’ll reveal below.)

This tip came from Judith Wright, author of The Soft Addiction Solution: Break Free of the Seemingly Harmless Habits That Keep You from the Life You Want.  In this book, Wright lists a number of “harmless habits” that waste time, at best, and become “soft addictions” at worst.  Her list includes some of the obvious bad habits: Too much TV-watching, endlessly surfing the Internet, cluttering. But it also includes less obvious distractions like constantly “checking weather, statistics, news,” “perusing catalogues,” and even “doing crossword puzzles.” (For the positive lessons crosswords can teach, click here.)

Of course all these activities can be entertaining diversions.  They only become problematic when they become excessive and compulsive. If the activity makes you “zone out” instead of lifiting your spirits and/or helps you avoid feelings or tasks that are more important, it could be a harmful habit.

Simply reading that “perusing catalogues” was a possible "soft addiction" made me conscious of this automatic behavior, and I gave myself permission to stop. Tossing those catalogues in the recycling bin, rather than feeling an obligation to flip through them, was a great relief. Why did I feel an obligation to scan these catalogues in the first place? It’s a mystery. Was it because they were MAIL and a person reads her mail? Did I have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on some great bargain?  I’m not sure. All I know is I spent far too much time flipping through the pages in a coma-like state. Occasionally I ordered something. Sometimes it was what I needed. Sometimes I had to re-wrap it and send it back. More time-wasting!

My “frittering habit” had 3 disadvantages:

  1. It wasted time and occasionally money.
  2. It made me focus on possessions. Seeing the perfect models with their perfect accessories and homes gave me a vague sense of dissatisfaction with myself.
  3. It sucked energy from things that gave me a sense of purpose—writing, connecting with friends and family, and getting things done.

Come to think of it, I got little if any pleasure from this habit, so it was easy to change. I should point out, however, that while catalogue-scouring was a waste of time for me, it might be a good habit for someone else.  Someone in the fashion or home design field might learn a lot from catalogues. A person who prides himself on knowing the prices of things for future reference might also benefit. And if this habit gives you a few moments of genuine pleasure without taking over your life, why not?

There is one exception to my “No flipping through catalogues” rule. I now “flip” only when I really need something. I feel better knowing that I am zoning in on what I need rather than zoning out in a mindless habit trance.

It’s amazing how a “small win” like this time-saver can brighten your life.

Did you ever notice and change a "frittering habit?" Tell us your story in Comments!

© Meg Selig, 2014


Wright, J. (2006) The Soft Addiction Solution: Break Free of the Seemingly Harmless Habits That Keep You from the Life You Want (NY: Penguin Group).

For more on peace of mind, health, willpower, and related topics, follow me on Facebook or Twitter at megselig1.  Check out my book on habit change Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009) here.

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