Cleanliness through bankruptcy and tethers

Ryan James Spencer

Cleaning makes my mind nimble. Untethered by the visual distractions of my environment, I am free to focus on the tasks that I set out to accomplish. Cleanliness is easier to acheive if you've identified a safe way to give up on the mess.

One way I clean digital clutter is to concoct lists, but then my time is sunk in curating lists. This is no good; I want to spend my time savoring the things I love, not acting as a digital packrat. "Getting things done" was popular because it provided a system centered around psychological safety. In practice, the attention to queues taxes the attention on task, and we wind up in the same place. This doesn't mean that psychological safety is the problem, but it does indicate that that the "getting things done" process doesn't accomplish that aim. I prefer no frills processes that I can trivially remember and rally around the notion of checkpointing. Checkpointing serves the basis for incremental progress. The point of checkpointing is to record details that we want to keep, but it also serves as a threshold for rejecting additional weight, as well. In this way, checkpointing is about regular cleanliness, through determining the 1% or less you want to keep, and declaring bankruptcy on the rest. Blow away tabs, bulk quit programs, throw it all in the bin; minimalism calls for a touch of sophisticated savagery.

Another example of employing psychological safety in this way comes in the form of reading. I will try to start books by reading cover to cover, but I may get bored, or the outcomes I set out to acheive for this reading experience aren't materialising. As such, I have to accept that I am going to possibly be left to sludging through this, but I don't have to; instead, I can explore ahead, seeking out if things improve, gleaning any extra details before I give up, but something in me wants to stay, wants to take the scenic route. At this stage leave a marker, usually a post-it note, after which I move forward and employ all the common tricks: I skim, I read first and random sentences seeing if anything leads me in, I try to discover anything that "catches" my attention like a fish in an exciting way. Effectively, I turn the knob on my pace up, inceasing it unless something slows me down. I call this process "the towline" or "tether".

I look back on some of these experiences and realise that if I had not done this, I would have spent an entire week, month, or year on the book in question. My focus is on outcomes from what I'm reading, not on the number of books I'm reading. As a community of readers, we need to dispel this myth that books can't be read in odd ways: reverse, randomly, evenly spaced. There are other tricks to build psychological safety, but the principle is the same in each; establish the courage to throw it all away by giving yourself enough that you can keep to make it feel like you aren't losing everything.