More About Flow

What flows in, should flow out!

Mail, papers, phone messages, emails, groceries and meetings. These are just a few of the items that flowed into your life today, right? And depending on your day, you’re probably experiencing some level of overwhelm. Between one and ten with one being low, what’s your overwhelm factor right now? If I could guarantee a way to decrease this overwhelm, would you act on it?

Photo by joelk75.

The solution is simple to say and a little harder to do: the amount of stuff you have coming in should be equal to or less than the stuff you have going out. The basic principle is easy: if you buy a pair of shoes, then delete a pair you currently own or if you buy new bath towels, old ones should be deleted. I hear you saying, “That’s hard!” But is it harder to delete or to be overwhelmed by stuff?

In the Minding Your Matters® Flexible Structure Method™ of organizing and productivity, understanding “flow” is the sixth component. And it is crucial if you want to decrease overwhelm and achieve “flow.”

Know Your Flow. Establish and maintain ways for your stuff, information and tasks to flow into and out of your space or your schedule. It is similar to what happens if you stand at one spot in a river – the water flows past that spot. You’re never in the same water twice. Should the river end in a lake that has no outlet, the water becomes stagnant. The same thing happens with our “flow.”

There are three types of flow in our lives and we have to understand the impact of each one in order to decrease the overwhelm created by each.

Stuff-flow™: This is the most tangible type of flow. “Stuff” is any physical item that enters our space. It is socks in the dresser and pens in the desk. It seems straightforward: for each clothing purchase, you delete a similar piece. The problem is that we often don’t consider all the stuff that enters our space: new groceries and toiletries, notes from a meeting you attended or permission slip for a child’s field trip. And that’s just the beginning!

We have to deliberately practice stuff-flow™ in all areas of our life. For more information about stuff-flow, check out The Principle of Stuff-flow™.

Schedule-flow: Because time is more abstract than physical items, schedule-flow is less tangible than stuff-flow™. The bottom-line is that we all have 24 hours in a day. While we can’t change the number of hours in a day, we can change how we allocate those hours. So if you’re schedule is full and someone asks you to do something (fun or not-so-fun), you will experience schedule overwhelm if you don’t somehow adjust your calendar to accommodate the new task. Here are some ways to increase schedule-flow:

Photo by Ms. Tea.

  • Say “no:” Practice saying, “I’m sorry, my schedule is full right now.”
  • Reprioritize: this includes deferring some tasks to another time.
  • Delegate: with a little creativity, everyone can delegate some task to someone.
  • Schedule all tasks: if you have tasks on a to-do list but don’t make a place for them in your calendar, they won’t get done.

Information-flow:The amount of information available was one thing when we had three television channels, snail mail, handwritten notes, newspapers and physical books. The increase in information with hundreds of TV channels, emails, ebooks, internet, smartphones, etc. is gargantuan. And because electronic data flows in so quickly, overwhelm from lack of information-flow can be overpowering. Here are some ways to stop information from flowing in and to organize the data you have:

  • Limit intake: I only take the Friday through Sunday newspaper and watch the 30-minute version of national news. If there is something really important happening, I can get additional briefings from the web. Similarly, I don’t save catalogs and magazines.
  • Catch incoming information immediately: I use an Outlook calendar, Evernoteand Diigo as the main ways I capture various types of electronic data. I have a filing system for paper items.
  • Practice regular maintenance: Process incoming information routinely. And remember, information has a lifecycle. This means that eventually most data becomes obsolete.

Here are some questions you can ask to help you know your flow:

  • What is creating the most overwhelm right now: stuff, schedule or information? Start making changes in one area at a time so that you don’t encounter more overwhelm.
  • What boundaries do I need to set with my stuff, schedule and information? Keep quantity in proportion to importance and/or amount of use.
  • What habits do I need to develop to improve my stuff, schedule and information flow? The simplest habit is the one in-one out. Keep in mind that this only maintains the amount of stuff, tasks or information you already have. If you want to decrease any of these, you need to employ the one in-two out rule.
  • What outside clutter do I need to manage? Do you need to designate a place for homeless items or tasks?
  • What inside clutter do I need to minimize? Do you need to quiet the perfectionist or people-pleaser in you?

Which “flow area” are you going to start with? Remember, knowing your flow may entail using all components** of the Flexible Structure Method.™ Feeling a little overwhelmed and want some help? Contact us today and we’ll have a member of the Minding Your Matters® organizing team give you some support!