Some of you are aware that Jen Hofmann and I have been planning our recently launched Work Party for a few weeks now. One of the things Jen was really excited about covering is “Dead Stuff,” by which she means stuff that you haven’t physically touched in over a year. She’s found that many people have a tendency to gather up a bunch of dead stuff that ultimately clutters up their offices and work spaces, and after a while that clutter jams up their creative and productive mojo.
We riffed about that for a bit until she mentioned that one of her client had given her some feedback along the lines that Jen made her realize that everything we own is on its way to the trash. Sure, it may be at different stages of the process of heading to the trash, but it’s all going that way.
And then I had an Eureka! moment, which I must say have happened fairly frequently since we’ve been hanging out and planning this thing. The Eureka! came from a crystallization of a new way to express some stuff I’ve been thinking about in the work that I do.
This post is a great example of the cross-pollination that has been working so well for us. We both help small businesses become more productive and creative, but we focus on different “domains”: Jen helps people get some peace and clarity with their physical workspaces so that they can become more productive and creative, and I help people work with their intangible workspaces so that they can become more productive and creative. What’s fascinated us both is that we’re using similar ideas, frameworks, and techniques to help our clients; the domains are different, but the problems and solutions are remarkably similar.
Trash Goes to the Curb
Let’s talk about trash for a second. Most of us recognize the smartest thing to do with a full trash bin is to bag it up and move it to the place where it’ll be picked up by sanitation workers. It may rest in a trash can before it hits the curb, but we recognize that it’s going that way.
No one would suggest bagging up your trash, taking it halfway down the stairs, and leaving it there. That’s not where it goes. If you leave it there, you’ll just have to pick it up again later. And you will have to pick it up again – it’ll start stinking and clogging up your stairs if you don’t.
Dead Stuff Needs to Go To The Trash
Dead stuff has a tendency to get out of the natural flow of things and eddies up in places like the back of closets, garages, or that third desk drawer that only gets used when you’re tired of feeling guilty about the mess on your desk and start getting rid of the things that “shouldn’t” be on your desk – because we all know that all good, creative, and productive people have clean, ordered desks. Anything less is just subhuman, right?
And like eddies in creeks, once dead stuff starts to accumulate, it starts grabbing other dead stuff, too. Rarely do you find one dried-up pen in a drawer by itself; there are others in there – or paired with it may be that janky stapler, dull scissors, unprocessed business cards from past conferences, or wires to devices you don’t even own anymore. I suspect that these piles and eddies grow because we unconsciously sort similar things together; dead stuff is similar because it all needs to go.
When I say “it needs to go,” I don’t mean that you have to bear down and force yourself to get rid of it. Rather, it’s just time let it go. As with all dead things, holding onto it won’t keep it alive or change the fact that it’s useful time has come and gone. Hanging onto dead stuff has a higher psychic cost than most of us realize; in time, dead stuff does what trash and dead things do – it stinks.
Intangible Stuff Can Be Dead Stuff, Too
Dead stuff exists in your intangible workspaces, too. Half-done projects that you haven’t touched in the last few months are dead stuff. Most of the resolutions we come up with at the beginning of the year are dead stuff before the frost melts. Those email messages that have been sitting in your Inbox for a month or so?…dead stuff. That domain you bought three years ago and have been meaning to flesh into a niche website?…dead stuff.
Intangible dead stuff is even more problematic not because we don’t recognize that it’s dead stuff but because we accumulate it so much faster than we do tangible stuff. The very thing that makes creative people thrive – idea generation – is what creates so much of the cognitive noise that accompanies dead stuff, and it’s hard for us to realize that all ideas are not equal and some just need to be let go. We end up keeping so many ideas running through our heads that it’s hard to separate the best from the rest. Noise, noise, noise; stench, stench, stench.
Just like tangible stuff, all projects, ideas, and such are moving to their resting point – they are all on their way to completion. Completion may be an intentionally completed project, or it may be a project that is for all purposes dead because it has it lay fallow for too long. Completion could be an idea that is used and helps us move from one level of awareness or application to another, or it may be an idea that’s so distant that it has no hope of ever being useful. It could be an effectively processed email message, or it could be an email that gets delayed and deferred until it’s no longer relevant. When something is completed, whether intentionally or not, it needs to be let go.
When we process and move along the intangible stuff in the right way, we take the trash to the curb. However, when we continue to hang onto the intangible dead stuff, we’re leaving trash on the stairs.
Pruning away the dead stuff can be hard, but doing so helps you put energy into the living stuff that matters. I’ll end by asking you to do two small things today: 1) let go of one tangible dead thing, and 2) let go of one intangible dead thing.
And if need some more help letting dead stuff go, check out our Work Party. (There are only ten seats, so don’t think too long about it.)