Cleaning your environment is a no-brainer for most high achievers. From my observations, I have seen these individuals tend to have the mindset that reflects the belief “if it has to be done or stands in the way, I will do it, period, no excuse.” This mindset is different from simply groaning, “I have to clean my environment, ugh.” Two totally different approaches to life, and we will take a stance from the high achiever’s point of view.
Let’s start with why.
Why is having a clean environment so important? Because without a clean environment your output will suffer. A clean environment facilitates productivity and focus.
Glucose savings. You want to be productive, but at the end of the day you feel spent. Every event and encounter you have throughout your day is using real physical energy.
Understanding the ‘why’, let’s press into this topic.
This goes deeper than simply being willing to maintain a clean environment. You may be daily battling to keep your office clean because you refuse to create repeatable systems (I’m not trying to shame you if you are a parent and own a pet or even children who wreak “havoc” in your office). Physically speaking, your place of rest must be the number one priority. I realized last week that nothing in my life, my business nor my relationships, can or will surpass the quality of my bathroom sink and my bedroom. If you can’t respect yourself enough to take phenomenal care of your living quarters, what makes you think anything else in your life can surpass this level? This is important to understand. And your self-respect is going to be mirrored back to you by people in your life. Some already know this, but this is a big realization for many.
Systematize Cleaning Your Environment
Systems make it easier. Systematizing mundane “chores” can save you energy and frustration in the moment when trying to decide what to work on. Decide ahead of time! Change your sheets regularly, batch-wash laundry at the end of the week (facilitates the quickest and almost robotic approach to this mundane chore; fold while on the phone with someone you’ve been meaning to call), vacuum the floor once a week (or month if you’re like me), batch-record podcast interviews on Mondays, batch-edit on Tuesdays, etc.
The next part of your environment to keep clean is your office or work space.
You already know this is important for millions of reasons, so we will stick with only a few. Keeping a borderline empty desk allows your eyes to focus on the task at hand. You are at a biological disadvantage if you have a cluttered desk. For example, when you have a full desk spread style planner with highlight and notes all over it, post-it notes sticking all over your screen, and an overload of shelf decorations, your visual senses are being inundated with passive peripheral stimulation. This has a negative affect on your focus. The excess stimulation forces additional glucose usage from your brain. Even though you think you can simply ignore the multi-colored tangible reminders all over your desk, your brain spends physical energy peripherally determining that it should not be focusing on all the post-it notes. The peripheral stimulation IS in fact harming your overall output bandwidth and capacity.
I was curious about this as I have always struggled to maintain focus on one single task until it is finished. Once I simply kept my work space clear, it freed up a lot of creative space in my mind and felt free to focus on brainstorming and working out challenges far more quickly.
My favorite show on television is CNBC’s “The Profit” with Marcus Lemonis (a dream guest of mine to host on the podcast!).
Marcus Anthony Lemonis is a Lebanese-born American businessman, investor, television personality, philanthropist and politician. He comes into failing businesses and gives them the tools and strategies to get back on their feet. This usually results in a thriving company. After watching every episode of every season ever published, I am confident to share the trend I see him most often implement. One of many steps Marcus does extraordinarily well is de-clutter to better gain focus on the important. He eliminates. He instructs owners and managers to go through their current profit and loss statements and be honest with themselves about what is working and what is not. This may result in a three-store franchise closing one of their stores if it is not profitable. Liquidation of older inventory is implemented frequently. As you can imagine, this “tearing off the band aid” approach usually yields a healthy dose of real life drama, resulting in an entertaining tv show.
My favorite episodes of all are the follow up ones where Marcus visits the companies he has invested in and sees how they are doing. Every single time, as long as they follow his direction, they have begun to thrive.
In his book, “Make Your Bed”, Admiral William H. McRaven shares personal anecdotes that help you realize If you are slightly better today than yesterday, and slightly better tomorrow than today, your life will be more meaningful and impactful. The power of de-cluttering and cleaning your environment is only attainable through being 100% honest and non-romantic with oneself about what is working and what is not. Then act on eliminating what is not working.
A personal Story About This…
I started a clothing brand in 2016, and although I broke even, I decided to “hang it up” for a while. I was left with about $500 worth of new inventory that never sold. I came out with a high-quality hoodie that was receiving truly impressive feedback from everyone who wore it, but the traction wasn’t there, and I failed to generate sales and turn a profit. The romance I had attached to the product and how much I invested in the hoodies, kept me from completely liquidating them and never looking back. I kept them, and they continue to take up minor space in my life and mind space. Fail.
The reason I share this, is because knowing what you need to do, and DOING it are two different things. That’s why many authors and psychologists recommend acting almost immediately after learning the solution to a challenge like cleaning your environment. Once you envision liquidating your left-over inventory or closing the extra store location, your brain can essentially “short-circuit” reality making you subconsciously feel like you’ve already done what you have not yet done. This is important to understand.
I strive to use Mr. Lemonis’ technique of elimination in every area that I can. If I am paying a bill every month to a service provider I no longer use, I eliminate the contract appropriately. This pays so many “dividends” just in the mental freedom that comes along with saving that internal dialogue of, “should I cancel that subscription, or ..?”. Every time you have passing thoughts like that, you are spending some of your energy. Will-power. It’s a distraction. On a physiological level your brain is burning extra glucose that could have been spent on true production of a worth while effort. Deep work.
The more high-achievers I study, the more value I attribute to the “little things”.
The “little things” in your everyday life are the biggest game changers long term. These are the tipping points in your life. Perhaps the missing link between you and achieving another level of achievement. When consistently implemented, healthy, seemingly small daily habits add up to be the differentiating factor in your life. If you make your bed every day, eat breakfast every day, and so forth, you will begin to find this is easier. Learn what works for you. I don’t believe there is any ONE right way of being hygienic and taking care of your space. I let my laundry spill over at times and stack up quite high, but at the end of the week, it gets washed. In the meantime, it’s not a priority and I can forget about it until the end of the week. This provides a much calmer psyche and facilitates deep work.
If you are operating from a cluttered desk, an unkept bedroom, and a dirty bathroom sink, I’d recommend starting small. Don’t’ wake up tomorrow and say, I’m going to clean my entire environment today. You’ll likely quit before it’s complete. Try simply clearing off your desk and seeing if it helps you get more done this week.
*I look forward to continuing this conversation below. Comment below with any recommendations in this area and allow us to gain insights we may be missing. This article discussed the importance of physically cleaning your environment. I think an even more important aspect of this is the mental environment. Declutter your brain. What shows are you binge watching? What music are you listening to? What guilty-pleasures are you indulging in that you know for a fact are not conducive to your wellbeing? Where are you not controlling your attention? Asking these questions can help begin the process of decluttering your mind, but this is not an area I feel qualified to speak on. There are many aspects to the human being, and often your physical environment can give you vivid glimpses into your internal world. This should be both challenging and revealing. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “your life is who you think you should be.” In addition, your environment and where you are in life is exactly where you think you deserve to be. Remember, be faithful in the little things, because truthfully, they aren’t so little.
Books on This Topic:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
Minimalism by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
*Disclaimer: my book recommendations do not necessarily imply that I agree with all the ideas or beliefs of the author, the author’s work, or their book’s contents, but that I learned some invaluable lessons through reading them. Always read with discernment and discretion.