to-do-boxThere is a time to sort-and-purge clutter and a time to act on your to-do’s.  It’s counter-productive to mix the sorting with the acting.

To truly understand why these two things are incompatible, it is first important to recognize the difference between getting organized and staying organized.  It’s not unlike the difference between cooking a meal and eating it.   It just works better to eat a meal after it is fully cooked  than to start eating the plain spaghetti while the tomato sauce burns on the stove.

OK, this isn’t a perfect analogy.  The reason it is more tempting to skip ahead from getting organized to addressing action items is because we are afraid of forgetting a to-do, once we have discovered it.  If we don’t take care of this uncovered bill now, we feel like we will forget it (AGAIN!)  I get it.  That’s completely understandable because I see this in almost every home I work in.  The way around it is the To-Do Box Promise.


The To-Do Box Promise is a link between your need to sort-and-purge and your need to take action.  To purge the excess clutter in your home, I recommend first sorting like with like into boxed categories.  One of these boxes is “To-Do.”  These are items that you want to MAKE A POINT OF ACTING ON.   Some of these to-do’s are more urgent than others and when they come up, my clients often urge me NOT to put them in the to-do box, for fear of forgetting.  That’s when I make the To-Do Box Promise.

The promise is this.  If you stay focused on sorting and purging the (admittedly) less important items we have before us, I promise we will prioritize your to-do box before I leave.  This is particularly important because we are usually not able to review EVERY box at the end of the session, but the To-Do box is special.

Every item that comes into our lives demands just one of two imperatives:
1. Make a point of acting on it or
2. Find it reliably
Action items usually fits into just one box, the rest can wait.  We can safely leave the find-it-reliably’s for now, but we really need to address the next phase with the box of to-do’s, so we always do.  Knowing that we have promised to address the to-do’s, allows the client to make the leap of faith that the to-do’s can be set aside while focus on finishing the much larger sort-and-purge.

After we finish the basic sorting and focus on JUST the to-do’s, it is much easier to sub-sort them between “urgent,” “soon,” and “eventually,” because we are seeing them in context.  Suddenly you are much more in control.  ALL categories have been sorted.  ALL to-do’s have been extracted and the urgent ones have been isolated.  NOW is the time to take action.

This is the approach I take when working with a client, but the same discipline works when you are getting organized on your own.  Promise yourself you will prioritize the to-do box when you are done, but FIRST finish the basic sort and purge FAST.