Decluttering: One of the best ways to reduce stress

Decluttering: One of the best ways to reduce stress

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Though I am not much of a fan of Marie Kondo, I acknowledge that she and many such gurus do know better about helping people to declutter and reorganize their physical mess. And over the last few months, I observed my friends and some acquaintances and learnt something or two about decluttering of a different sort; of activities. Our lives are sometimes filled with too many activities; of interests and commitments. To begin to understand how to declutter our lives, we need to first understand where our activities in our lives fall into.

To this end, John Assaraf summarized succinctly the difference between interest and commitment:

If you’re ‘interested’, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.”

This afternoon I read an interesting article by American preacher Olivia Moore. In it, she highlighted the differences between knowing and believing. “Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that you believe something just because you have heard it for so long. Familiarity and belief are not the same thing.” This was like an “Aha” moment for me. In the same line of thought, being familiar and interested in something is just not the same as believing and being committed; the latter requires action.

For a long time, I associated interest with commitment – if I was interested in something, I would naturally be drawn to and be committed to it, wouldn’t I? Not necessarily so I found out.

And so, using the Eisenhower box as a guide, I started to seek insights into the activities that vie for my attention during my waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours. I divided the activities I regularly do as well as those I am interested in into four quadrants based on the level of commitment on the X-axis and level of interest on the Y-axis (see diagram below). This helps me to sieve out the value-adding activities and identify which ones I should focus on.

The key is to focus on activities which you are interested in and committed to as well as try to raise the level of interest in activities you are committed to currently but have low interest in. Of course, there is also the element of skills but we will leave that for another discussion.

High Interest-High Commitment

These are the activities we should be focusing on. Beginning with “why” is a great way to maintain interest and commitment levels.

High Interest-Low Commitment

If you are highly interested in an activity or new habit but yet find difficult committing to it, I would suggest either (a) shelve it for the time being, or (b) if time permits, find a way to raise your commitment level. Personally, I find the 2-minute rule by James Clear or the method I dub the “10-minute rule” by Shaunta Grimes very helpful in building up commitment levels. Practising both rules will help you shift gears from where you are currently to where you want to be.

Here’s a summary of the “10-minute rule” Shaunta Grimes uses:

1. Choose a goal

Choose a tiny tiny goal that you can easily spend 10 minutes working on every day, regardless of whether you are at work, travelling or even recuperating at home. The goal should be so small that it would be more difficult, psychologically, to skip it than it would be to just sit down and do it. For example, if your goal is to be a writer, spend 10 minutes everyday writing. If 10 minutes is too onerous on days you are busy, shrink it to 5 minutes or just write a page or even a paragraph. The key is to keep at it.

2. Figure out where your goal fits in your day.

Find a suitable time within the day for your tiny goal. You can set a digital notification and/or write it down in your planner to remind yourself to do it. See if you can do it during your lunch break, before bedtime or during the morning commute to work.

3. Keep that goal, like it was a goal to breathe on the regular

Shaunta advises that we should view our goals as sacrosanct and that it matters as much as a day job or an important appointment we may have scheduled. Do whatever it takes to stick to this tiny goal and don’t skip it, no matter what.

Low Interest-High Commitment

This sounds like blah – it can even be the day job many of us are stuck with. If our current day job is of low interest but we still need to bring home the bacon, we need to find a meaningful way to engage ourselves and make our job more interesting.

Try introducing some excitement once a week, for example, by checking out new eateries with colleagues every Friday. If you lack concentration at work and are unable to work on an assignment for hours at a stretch, a simple solution would be to divide the assignment into “bite-sized” pieces and practice simple timeboxing techniques to improve concentration and productivity. A simple timeboxing technique might look like this:

  • Work for 30 minutes and then take a 5-minute break
  • Repeat this cycle four times
  • Thereafter take a 30-minutes break
  • Restart the whole process.

In addition, consider attending industry talks related to your job scope to get a different perspective from industry practitioners and see how they are doing things differently or seek a mentor.

At a more fundamental level, we ought to figure out our purpose or the “why” behind what we are doing. Only by first gaining clarity into our purpose can we then enjoy as well as sustain the process of what we do.

We will subsequently find it easier to progress from the low interest, high commitment quadrant to the high interest, high commitment quadrant.

The maxim Friedrich Nietzsche shared decades ago sums this up clearly:

He who has a ‘Why to live can bear with almost any How.”

Low Interest-Low Commitment

In Singlish terms, we “bochup” (disregard or ignore) these activities. In plain speak, we chuck these out.

Interested or Committed? You decide.

You may also wish to check out the “My Busy-ness Worksheet to start to make sense of where your time goes to in a week.

Do you live with a hectic lifestyle? Do you feel overwhelmed with a never-ending string of tasks? You are meant to thrive at work, in your family and as a person. Improve your mental well-being and prevent/overcome burnout with one of our Mental Well-Being programmes.


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Decluttering: One of the best ways to reduce stress

by Linnette Lim
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