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10 Steps to Forming the Habits of Organization – As Taught By Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

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10 Steps to Forming the Habits of Organization –
As Taught By Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

I recently attended a webinar about organization as part of the Sea Change program. Sea Change is habit formation and life transformation program designed by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. During this webinar he shared his personal philosophy on organization and gave us a few tips on how to get started. He told us that organization is not just about overcoming a bit clutter it’s about filling our lives with trust, ease, and space.

When our lives become more organized we have more room to move and grow. We have more time to focus on the things we really care about. And we have more mental space to create the kind of life we want to live.

During this webinar Leo offered many tips on how to get started. I compiled this list based on those suggestions

10 Steps to Forming the Habits of Organization

1. Pick a Space

The first step is to pick a space. A good starting space is any flat surface that you use on a regular basis. Leo used his desk as an example.

Leo said that currently his desk was pretty clear. On it he has a scanner, a mouse, a keyboard, and a glass of water. He doesn’t have any paper because he digitizes everything. But if he did have any papers they’d go in front of his scanner. So he could scan everything as soon as he had time.

2. Com’pile’ It

The next step to organizing a flat space is to take everything and put it in one big pile. This helps to empty the space and forces you to examine and evaluate everything that occupied that space.

3. Home or No Home?

The third step is to go through all these item without skipping any and ask, “Does this have a home?”

If the item does have a home, take the item and put it there. If the item doesn’t have a home you ask, “Do I need this?”

If you need it then you have to find a home for it. Decide where that home is and put it there.

If you don’t need it, get rid of it, either by recycling it or donating it.
Create a box for recycling, donations, and gifts. As soon as you are done sorting, take these boxed and put them in your trunk or by the front door. This is a way to ensure you will get rid of this stuff ASAP.

4. Review

The next step is to have a regular review your space. This review can be daily or weekly depending on how often you use the space and how quickly it becomes cluttered. If it is a large space or one that you don’t use as much you can even do a monthly review.

The key is to remember to do it. So put it on your calendar and make sure you do it when the day or hour arrives.

5. Learn to Pause

The key to maintaining organization in between reviews is to pause between each activity and assess if you need to put things away.

Leo notes that our tendency is to move from one task to the next without stopping. When we practice pausing we stop at the end of each task and ask is everything in its home.

Leo used the example of his teacup. He may be drinking a cup of tea while writing. When he gets done writing he pauses and notices he finished his tea. Before he moves on to the next activity he knows he has to do something with his tea cup.

6. Go to Your Home

Once you’ve paused and assessed it’s essential to put items in their homes.

For example you notice you’ve finished your teacup so you take it into the kitchen. You could put your cup on the counter, but is that it’s home?

You realize that the cup is dirty so it should go in the dishwasher. Once you wash the dishes you will move the cup to the cupboard where it lives until you use it again. Now that the cup is in it’s temporary home, you can move on to your next task

7. Focus on Consistency

Leo says that the key to forming a habit is to be consistent. The more regularly you repeat your habit the stronger it will become. If you are inconsistent or irregular either the habit will form slowly or not at all.

It’s not about being 100%, because we all slip up from time to time. But when we do it’s important to work to get on track.

8. Reminders

One of the best ways to be consistent is to use reminders.

There are 3 common types:

Physical reminders –

These are physical cues so you remember to put things in their homes. You could use a rubber band on your wrist, a sticky note on your desk, or a piece of tape on a coffee cup. 

Just remember that as you get used to these physical reminders you may begin to overlook them. When this happens it’s time to change the reminder or try a different technique.

Digital Reminders –

These are things like online calendars, email reminders, and phone reminders.

There are allot of reminder aps out there, but one Leo uses and recommends is and ap called Do. He uses Do to remind himself to tell his wife 3 good things about his day every evening.

Social Reminders –

These are reminders related to groups or relationships. They can be reminders you receive as part of an accountability group, a business partnership, or a romantic relationship.

The trick with these reminders is that you rely on others to provide them. So the reminders are only as consistent as those offering them. But some people find these kinds of reminders more motivating and easier to maintain.

9. Overcoming Rationalizations –

Leo notes that we rationalize keeping things we don’t need. These unneeded items often make a large part of our clutter and excess possessions. But if we can overcome these rationalizations and bid farewell to these items our organization project will be much more successful.

Leo identified 3 types of common rationalizations:

I paid good money for it-

This is a common rationalization for keeping things you don’t need. The thinking goes I don’t want to waste the money I paid for it.
Which makes sense, but Leo says if you’re not using it you should get rid of it.

If you aren’t using it you’re already wasting the item and the money you spent for it. To return the items value all you need to do is to give it to someone who would actually use it.

In addition the things you keep end up costing you money. They cause you to need more living space, storage, and insurance. If you just get rid of this unused stuff you can make more room for yourself to live in.

I might need it –

Leo says, if you haven’t used in 6 month you probably don’t need.
If you haven’t used it in 1 year you definitely don’t need it.

And if you haven’t used it in 2 or more years you’re kidding yourself.

The truth is we’re afraid we’ll give something away and then within a week discover we need it. So Leo has a work around for this called the maybe box.
As you organize take items that fall into the ‘I might need it’ category and put them in a maybe box. Next tape up the box or boxes and put the date on it. Finally put the box in the back of a closet or in your garage.

Then set a calendar reminder for 6 months from today. Then only open the box if you really need an item. In 6 months if you haven’t opened the box give it away. If you find in 6 months you do need something then find a home for whatever you needed.

It’s got sentimental value – 

We put allot of sentimental values in things. Like old ticket stubs, yearbooks, a old holiday gifts.

What you have to remember is that if your grandmother gave you a vase her love isn’t in the vase. Her love was expressed in the giving of the vase and in you memory of the present.

So Leo encourages us to preserve the memories without preserving the clutter. Take a picture of items that have sentimental value and then create a slide show you can view a couple of time a year.

That way the memories will remain intact long after the stuff is gone.

10. Daily Organizing

Once you have organized some of your commonly used areas, Leo tells us it’s essential to develop a daily habit of organization. By making time every morning to go through and quickly reorganize all of these spaces.

The reason this is so important is that as you do this you begin to trust your system of organization more and more. As you build trust you also build ease and focus. You stop having to stress out about where your keys go, or if you know where your wallet is.

Leo says when we are disorganized part of our mind is always wondering about the location of some essential item or worrying that we’ve forgotten an essential task. When we trust our system those worries fall away and we can focus on what we are doing.

11. (The Bonus Step) Letting Go

This final step is only for advanced organizers and came in response to my question. I asked: What about things in your reading file? Mine is filled with things I’d love to read, but I know that I put more in then I can actually read.

Leo told us that he has this same problem. There are simply more things he wants to read then he has time for.

He’s been trying to focus on letting go of getting to the bottom of his pile. He does go through an sort it from time to time. But he has let go of the idea of ever getting it completely empty.

Instead he’s been trying to think of it as a stream. Something he can dip into but that he can never swallow whole.

As you move forward with your organization habits this thought is important to remember. Organization about working with the flow of our lives.

It’s less about building a dam and more about managing where the energy goes. After all we can never completely control our environment. But if we put these 10 +1 habits into action we can learn to manage our lives better so we don’t get soaked.


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