Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, December 2007
At the risk of losing business, I will admit to something you probably already know: organizing is not brain surgery. In fact, you probably get more frustrated when you can’t get organized BECAUSE you know it shouldn’t be so hard. Once again, the culprit is “more” not “less.” I’m talking about “more” thinking than is helpful. If you find yourself getting stuck with what to do with an item, forget all of those complicated organizing principals you may have heard (Even if they’ve come from me!) and just remember this simple acronym: W.A.P.!
1. W is for WHY. Pick up any item from a cluttered surface and ask, “Why am I keeping this?” The “W” does not stand for “where” as in “where should I put this?” If you cannot answer “why” you are keeping something, the “where” is irrelevant. The “why” doesn’t have to be as important as tax information or proof of residence. For example, I keep a ratty, old matchbook, which, if seen in a pile of clutter by anybody else, would be quickly tossed. However, written inside that matchbook is the telephone number my wife gave me when we first met. Once you have clearly established a “why” (i.e. it brings back a good memory), then you can move on to the next step.
2. A is for ACTION. When you have answered “why” you are keeping something; connect that “why” to an ACTION. Don’t actually take the action yet, but establish an action that will get this item off of your surface. This is why I am so fond of boxes. By labeling boxes “to file,” “to read,” “to do,” “to upstairs,” “to donate,” “to review,” and so forth, you are establishing actions that will unknot your pile of clutter.
3. P is for PLAN. Now that you have broken up this assorted pile of clutter into manageable boxes of action, it is time to create specific plans for those actions. Maybe you will feel yourself getting stuck here, but resist the urge to stop at W.A. – keep going – you can do this! Start with the “to do” box. Separate the “to do today” from the “to do eventually” and every “to do” in between. Let’s say one of the top items in your “to do today” pile is “to send” a thank you card to a cousin in Wales. Perhaps you’ve even written the note two weeks ago and you think, “This is ridiculous! All I have to do is send it. I’ll just do that NOW!” WAIT! That card is going nowhere without an International stamp, which you don’t have. The plan should be something more like: Stop by Post Office on way home from supermarket. Maybe you could place that card by the door so you don’t forget.
You may notice there is no “TAKE action” in the W.A.P. formula. That is for two very good reasons. First, you need to get through the pile clearing process FAST and for this to happen you need complete focus. Taking action will interfere with this focus. Second, you need to THINK OF this process as fast, so that it’s not something you put off. If you remember the last time you cleared your desk as an event that took all day, you’ll be reluctant to do it again. If, however, you got through it in a focused 30 minute session, you can see yourself doing it again between lunch and your 1:00pm meeting. When you put off taking action until the end, you may actually be more productive because now you have a clear game plan going forward.
At the heart of the W.A.P. process is the same idea that is at the heart of every good organizing solution: CIRCULATION. Without circulation there is accumulation. So the next time a pile has accumulated in your space, grab the item on the top of the pile, hold it over a trash can, and start by asking, “Why am I keeping this?” If you don’t have an answer, then LET GO! (Repeat often.)