The Secret to the 10 Minute Purge

shush_arsYou know those magazine articles or online features that offer “Great Organizing Tips!”? They almost always include a tip that says something to the effect of:  “Spend just 10 minutes throwing out unwanted items.”  Often they advise to “just start with the junk drawer!”

A ten minute purge can be very unsatisfying without three key guidelines. So the secret to the 10 minute purge is actually 3 secrets:

1. Set a VERY limited goal.

If your home office is a mess, it probably needs an overhaul, not a 10 minute purge. Even a junk drawer, if it’s bad enough to be a problem, may take more than 10 minutes. The ten minute purge is best for maintenance, not a overhaul. A fat project folder, for example, would be a good candidate.

2. Set a timer.

This may sound silly, but by having a timer ticking away, it is easier to stay focused on this one task. It reminds you that you do not want to waste more than 10 minutes on a task that is simply maintenance. Most importantly, it reinforces that the next time you need to do a 10 minute task, that really is all the time it will take, not a whole morning. You can almost always fit in 10 minutes.

3. Imperfect is OK.

I know I’m not the only organizer to recommend setting a timer, but here’s a crucial point I don’t see anyone emphasizing. Don’t aim for the perfect purge. It’s very easy to think “Ooh, even I can handle 10 minutes, if that will really make a difference.” What happens then, is you get stuck on a few items, that leave you searching for the correct destinations. After all, if all you’re doing is just one project folder, you ought to be able to, at least, get that done right. Then the timer goes off and you have NOT finished even this limited task. You feel even worse about your organizing abilities and are discouraged from ever falling for the magic 10 minute purge again.

Accept that there are probably going to be a few items you’re just not ready to make decisions on and move on to the quick wins. Moving quickly and staying on task is what’s most important. Maybe you had hoped your fat folder would be reduced to a thin one, but it’s just a medium one. That’s OK! You have still made progress and you are done for now. Done-for-now is OK for all maintenance. As long as that project is still active, you will have to come back to that project folder when it fills up again anyway.

If you accept that your 10 minute purge doesn’t have to be perfectly complete, then it becomes easier to assure yourself that you CAN do it again and again. That’s important because staying organized doesn’t last without participation.