I thought about titling this post “The Tao of Delete” but then figured that might be a bit too cheeky. Accurate…but cheeky. Still, I like the phrase, so I’m going to go with it.
Long before I ever put any really conscious effort into getting myself organized and simplifying my life and work, I made good friends with the “delete” key. In fact it was kind of a running joke when I worked for Boeing and later Children’s Hospital that my #1 tip for being more productive was liberal use of “delete.”
We’d have these “5s” (sorting, simplifying, sweeping, standardizing, and self-discipline) training sessions at Boeing and I’d walk out of there shaking my head thinking, “we just need to get rid of more stuff.” And that’s pretty much what “The Tao of Delete” is all about–cleaning out stuff you don’t need and will just plain never use.
The best work-a-day example I can come up with is e-mail. If I can’t say for sure that I’ll need to keep a message (to be taken care of, filed, or whatever) I delete it and never look back. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s worked just fine. I find that if I ever really need to take care of something important and have “lost” the e-mail relating to it, a simple phone-call or follow-up e-mail will usually sort that out. The one place I don’t use this method is with sent items. I usually keep those for quite awhile, you know, to cover my ass. As well, this doesn’t mean I don’t keep and file e-mails, I just try to be pretty heavy handed in deciding what I actually need to keep.
h3. Beyond E-mail
I use the same method when cleaning out my hard drive. I simply go through everything and ask myself some hard questions about the files I’m looking at. It’s usually pretty easy for me to decide what is safe to delete and what’s not. When it comes to my files I usually err on the side of keeping them or archiving them, so I’m less “maverick” than I am with e-mail.
I just went through this last week and freed up almost 2 Gb of space. Most of it was from PDFs and other crap I’d downloaded from the Web. With the state of my poor 30 Gb drive, I needed it. Plus, my files are much less cluttered than they were before. Deleting makes for much easier sorting, for obvious reasons.
h3. Beyond The Computer
I remember a George Carlin bit about “stuff” where he talks about how people just keep accumulating stuff until they need to get a bigger place to put all their stuff. It’s really funny, and totally true. Don’t I know it. My place used to be packed with crap and it stressed me out. It just made me think about all the crap I need to do with my crap, you know?
I’ve got a “collector” mentality. I like my stuff. I like to shop and I don’t mind a little clutter. Makes me feel at home. The problem is that my place is pretty small and “a little clutter” turns into “a lot of crap” pretty quickly. This is when I take the Tao of Delete to my home. I go through almost everything and decide what I want, what I need and what I can get rid of. Last year when I did this I had to call some haulers to come and cart this stuff away. I had two truckloads! Made me wonder where I was keeping it all.
I felt so good…so relieved after those haulers left. My place was clean, and easier to keep clean, for a long time and in general I just felt better about my living arrangements. Sure I could have gone and got a bigger place to keep all my stuff, but I realized what I really needed was less stuff.
h3. The Bottomline
I guess I can’t really recommend The Tao of Delete to everyone. It doesn’t come without risks. However, I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to eliminate a problem or to make something better is to take something away. I use this method in my designs, I use it in my Web development (for example, my most effective way of troubleshooting CSS is to begin removing things) and I’m using it in my writing.
So far it’s worked well for me.