When messy is meticulous: cleaning clutter like Gmail

When it comes to cleaning a house, or a room, few are quick to consider the strategy of throwing everything together, or at least they don't consider it a strategy.

That's too bad, because frequently it's exactly the thing to do. Too often I think, we plod through the task of organization without a realistic regard for impact on time. Programmers attempt to see things differently. Consider organization as a function of time spent vs. time saved.

A hundred labels on a hundred envelopes for files you'll only access a few times is a colossal waste of time, despite the deceptively sly title of "organizing". In precisely the same manner, tossing together and tucking out of sight odds and ends you seldom use is fantastically practical.

Go ahead and gather up all of the clutter in your workspace! In your home! At your office, and wherever else you spend your time. Stick it all together haphazardly, in clear containers perhaps. Yes you may need to hunt, but rarely—that's why it's clutter. Furthermore it's together, and your workspace is clear of all but items relevant to your recent goals, enhancing your focus.

Often we're at a loss with what to do with our stuff, it's not worthless or we'd throw it away, it's unique or miscellaneous or we'd know where to put it. It could be organized or filed but it's awaiting our input. Throw it together! Sweep it into a box! You need it, you want it, but you haven't gotten to it, you don't want to see it and it's not immediately relevant. Instead of agonizing over organizing, reallocate your time, spend it on searching and not on sorting. Though it might seem inefficient in the long run, there will be no long run, as you search for an item to deal with it.

Gmail envelope

Obligatory technology tie-in: Everything has parallels in technology (and everything else), consider GMail's "don't sort, search". User interfaces are again similar. Items of frequent use and relevance are close by, and commands shouldn't be buried in otherwise empty multi-tiered menus in an inconvenient obtuse attempt at organization.

The user interface of your life: you, where you are, and the items around you that help you reach your goals—could use metrics of its own. Without mental measurement, are you sure you're building a time saver, or wasting time? Are you sorting when you should be searching?