This appears to be a typical trait in people who want to have everything look ‘just so’. There is a certain level of OCD-like behaviour in there, and oftentimes it’s all about finding ever more detailed ways to sort things out. A classic symptom here was present in my business owner: he ended up creating folders within folders, and each of them held only a handful of document files, both electronic filing and paper filing: both his filing cabinet and his computer filing system were replete with almost empty folders. There was a whole wall of nearly empty binders on multiple shelves, ready to be filled – and he’d NEVER run out of space, even if he’d get new stuff to file for the next 100 years. The same with the computer files: having too many folders ultimately hinders you: or can you remember where exactly everything will be?
My client assured me that he knew exactly where things were, but when push came to shove and I asked him about certain documents I had seen during my initial audit he was hard put to quickly retrieve them. I know, a rather artificial exercise, but at the very least it was random, and without the usual pressure to find things ‘right now’.
My help in this case consisted in making him understand how fewer folders can actually increase synergies, cut down on retrieval times, save money (fewer folders and storage space), and open the space up (there is nothing worse than a wall of binders rather than a sense of freedom from the emptied space!). We managed to cut down the number of folders by one simple consideration: “there is no need to create more structure as long as you can find what you are looking for within the existing structure”. In practice, this translates as “save it in one folder until you can determine a group of documents that belong together and cannot be easily found within that folder, only then create a new folder”. Once that is clear, naming conventions, colour coding, etc. can come on top of that to enhance your system even more, but that is another story altogether.
Besides this simple thing to remedy, I found that the same focus on detail permeated anything he did, and even beyond his regular work, his mind was buzzing with new ideas and improvements to his business. In fact, so much so that it had started to impact his efficiency when it came down to actually getting anything of consequence done. All those potentials were blocking him, as he chose to go down many different paths at once, losing his focus and ability to bring things to a close in the process.
I’m not saying that his ideas were not good, far be it from me to judge what works for him and what doesn’t, but the matter of the fact was that it kept him from seeing the big picture. On some level, this is very similar to his issue with the folder barrage on his wall: too much detail became a burden.
The lesson to be learned here is the importance of finding a balance between going overboard with structure on the one hand, and letting it slide to a point where the existing structure is too sparse to find things; a balance between what we can actually manage to achieve at the moment, and what needs to be left alone - at least for now. My client is still struggling with some of these aspects, but we have managed to pinpoint where the problem lies, he is aware of it and has taken steps to make sure that he realises when things go overboard again.
On a personal note, I am most certainly familiar with that sense of having too many irons in the fire, too many bright ideas, one of which might just be the one I have been waiting for all my life. It is important to realise that we cannot possibly do everything that looks good and useful, that some choice has to be made, especially if we have come to realise that we are loading our plate up with too much. It pays to move away from it all occasionally and have an impartial look at the accumulation of projects, ideas, notions, systems we call our own.
And then make some tough choices to ensure our wellbeing is taken care of, too.
Don't forget to return and read the second part of this blog. You'll be reading a short post on the subject of letting go: learning to say 'no'.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.