“Clutter” in our lives …

(A) Clutter in our Minds …

All of us lead busy lives, trying to balance Work and Personal Life. I am generalizing this statement, because till date, I have not heard anyone admit that “I have all the time in the world”. Such a statement will be bad news at home (because Wife wont let you slip off the household chores that easily the next time) and at work (just what your boss wants to hear in this Economy, you have no serious work to do!). During our busy lives, we invariably have to make quick decisions, regarding Work, Health, Finances, Hobbies etc.

Before going further, let me post a word of caution: I do not have any formal training in Psychology. My thoughts are based on what I have noted through experience.

No human can hold on to every single bit of information, with 100% retention, he/she comes across on a day-to-day basis. Televisions, Computers, Laptops, Handhelds and Smart Phones provide extensive avenues for Information Overload and Distractions. How does one keep sane with this kind of Information Overload?

The way I see it, our Mind has following high-level categories of Information:

(01) Basic/default Self-Knowledge: Examples are Name, Family, Health Issues etc. We are reminded of these quite constantly and we do not need special effort to recollect or remember them.

(02) High-Priority (Red-Flag) Work/Personal Items: Examples are Critical project/product about to be shipped, a major Family Event (birth of a child) etc. The sheer urgency and imminent nature of the task ensures that your mind will have the fresh/latest information without too much extra effort.

(03) Regularly-recollected Major Events/Occasions: Examples are Birth-dates of Family/Friends (I mean of those people who cannot indirectly prod you through FaceBook :-)), Your child’s first steps etc. Because one recollects or cherishes these moments/events often, these are also pretty much ingrained in our minds.

(04) “All The Rest”/”Miscellaneous”: This is the category I would like to focus on. The curious nature of this category is that this is a “by choice” category. For example, I can choose to remember or memorize every single song I have heard till now OR I can choose to remember or memorize every single book or magazine I have read till now. It may very well be that I cannot do both. Doing one would prevent the other and viceversa. As you can note, this is the category which is the most fluid and the one we struggle with most of the times.

My suggestion for this category is to do the following: “Process, Package, Store & Discard”.

Process – Decide upon coming across this information if this is something you are interested in. If not, solution is easy. Forget about it.

Package – If you decide that the information is something you are interested in and would be useful in future, package it somehow. For e.g. hand note, document etc.

Store – Keep this packaged information somewhere safe and easily accessible.

Discard – Dont dwell on this piece of information any more.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Let us say that I need to have an urgent and major repair done on my car. I will use the (02) category mentioned above, shop around, select vendor, haggle and get the job done. Since this is a major repair and I would need to keep track of this event, I would decide that I need to store this information. Now, data like: Which workshop, Total cost, Various categories of repairs that were done, Various parts that were replaced, Time it took etc. would be documented in my file related to Car XYZ and filed away. This is made easy by the detailed receipt the vendor provides. Once this is done, I would not dwell on it any more. In future, if I am required to look into the details of my Car XYZ, all I have to do is to look up my File on Car XYZ.

As you can note, the data you have to remember (preferrably, in Categories (01) or (03)), is “Where to look?” for that piece of information.

Other examples are:

– Which beaches did we enjoy the most during our visit to Kauai, Hawaii?

– How do I go about filing taxes for 2010?

– How do we use ASIC Design EDA Tool XYZ to do Job ZYX?

Organizing and maintaining Category (04) is not a one-time Event. It has to be done diligently and consistently. The reward for doing that?

Any time you are confronted with a question, which requires quick/immediate action from you, a clear and precise plan jumps to your mind almost as quickly as the question is posed. Trust me, it is good to have clarity in our lives.

[Note: I do not mean that I am the most clear and precise guy out there. There is always room for improvement and I am still a “Work in Progress” :-). But I know that I am better than a lot of people]

(B) Clutter in our Homes …

Those of us who have moved residences will understand this the best. Remember the “Junk” that surfaced when you were trying to pack and move to a new place? Atleast I do. During some of our moves, I remember throwing stuff away at random just because I was fed up with the “move”. By nature, we like to hold on to things because “We might need it in future”, “I paid quite a lot of money for this and dont want to throw it away NOW (In future? Let us see …)” etc.

There are two solutions that I have been trying and both seems to be working okay:

(01) Ask the question “Will I really be needing this in future?” and decide on the spot if this is something that is useful to store away: For e.g. I get regular reports from Social Security Administration, Banks, Financial Companies etc etc. (Avoiding paper statements and using online accounts helps a lot here). After review, I typically shred them away.

(02) Regular Home Cleanup: For example, once a month, I spend 30 minutes during a weekend to put together a waste bag full of junk which is either recycled, thrown away or donated. Examples are: Outdated toys which your children do not use anymore, Receipts which are of no use any more, Stuff which does not work (but are invariably stored in some deep corner in some shelf), Stuff which no one has used for more than 6 months (No, I do not mean Passport, which has not been used because you have not travelled in over 6 months! Nor do I mean kids clothes which you are saving for the sweet memories. You get the drift …) like clothes (because my body shape has changed to some other unknown shape) etc. Please note that most (not “all”) of the items which has not been used for more than 6 months are stuff you dont need.

Adios …

Trying to decide where to go next …

My company has a Shut Down planned for the 2nd half of 2010. Second half of December is typically slow and personally, I welcome the break. Last year’s break was a blast and that was primarily when I finalized the Summer Vacation 2010 plans and logistics. Considering the scope of my Summer Vacation 2010, I am glad to say that it went quite smoothly. Backpacking, travelling with kids etc. are concepts that are easy to talk about, but not very easy to implement.

This year, I hope to work on some 2011 plans. I am a “Do It Yourself” kind of guy and will probably continue to stay away from Mass-Manufactured, Spoon-Fed Tours. As mentioned elsewhere, I like to experience the thrill, apprehension, euphoria and satisfaction from a trip on which I get to: Research, Learn and Experiment.

We are in the mood for some more tropical fun. So, countries which are too North (or too South) are not going to be considered for this time. Already some ideas are forming in my mind. Let me work on it and get back …