I recently listened to a podcast featuring Andrew Mellen, a professional organizer. While I love a clean house and being organized, I am in the midst of preparing to move all of my earthly possessions from one state to another. My house may look uncluttered, but I cringe when I open certain drawers or cabinets. I, like most Americans, have way too much stuff.
As I listened to Mellen describe how effective leaders live with little clutter, I was struck by one simple statement: clutter is delayed decision-making. Consider for a moment why you stack one piece of paper on another. You either can’t or don’t want to make a decision based on the paper in front of you. Maybe you are missing an important piece of information. Maybe you are waiting for someone else to make a decision. Most likely, you just don’t want to deal with the issue in front of you. And heaven forbid that you put the piece of paper in a file. As Mellen said, filing is where decisions go to die. There is hardly a time you return to that file once it is placed in a folder and out of sight. In some way, I had a feeling Mellen had been to my house.
So, how can leaders be more organized? How does stuff get in our way of being a productive leader? Here are just a few of my personal thoughts that might help you and might actually help me.
1. Leaders can be more organized when we deal with the paper in front of us immediately. It’s like getting mail each day. It’s best to stand in front of the trash can and throw away anything you don’t want to touch again. Deal with it as quickly as possible.
2. Spend one hour a week decluttering your desk. This is probably done best at the end of the week when you want to leave for the weekend and return with a clean slate on Monday. What papers need to be thrown away? What unnecessary items are keeping you from seeing the top of your desk? Don’t leave until you can see the top of your desk.
3. Effective leaders understand stuff is generally connected to a story, but they learn to separate the story from the stuff. This is a tough one for me. I can look around my house and many items are connected to a story. Whether it’s items from my grandmothers or a memento from a mission trip, it’s often difficult to let go of things that keep me connected to people, places, or experiences. On the other hand, those things aren’t the actual memory. Those live in my heart and not on a shelf collecting dust.
4. Clutter and stuff can be costly. Look at the number of storage units that seem to be everywhere. When people don’t have enough room for their stuff, they actually pay to keep their stuff somewhere else. Storage is costly—even in your own house. The demand for stuff also affects your budget. For the next month, take a hard look at where you money goes. What non-essentials did you purchase? Could you have used that money toward a ministry? What if you used that money for an experience and not a thing? What if you just saved that money?
5. Clutter can rob you of time and joy. Most of us want to believe that stuff brings us joy, but it can actually weigh us down. The more stuff you have, the more time it takes to clean it and take care of it. And there is nothing that says joy-killer more than cleaning stuff.
What about you? Is your clutter affecting your ability to lead? How would you spend time differently if your desk was organized? How would you spend time with your family differently if your house was organized? Let’s take a hard look at what we treasure. Even Jesus thought this was an important topic when he said, “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.