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Five-Minute Cleanup

A stopwatch.It’s the end of the semester. Classes just finished, but I’m busy with committee meetings, thesis advising, and (of course) some grading. (Well, ok, a lot of grading.) I’m also writing an article and planning a conference presentation for early January.

What does this mean for my workspace? As I look around, there are several piles of papers and books that could be archaelogically excavated, each layer representing a different moment from the past couple of months. There are the notes for a new lecture I was putting together in late October. On top of that, materials from the conference I went to in mid-November. On top of that, the novel I finished teaching before Thanksgiving. On top of that, forms that have to be signed and returned to the administrative office. Etc. It’s not pretty.

I begin each semester with a neat and orderly office, but as the weeks move along, the detritus from the semester piles up. But I’m busy right now and don’t have time or patience for dedicating a full afternoon to clearing things out.

Enter the Five-Minute cleanup. Set a timer for five minutes, put on some energizing music, and work as quickly as you can to put things away, clear space on your desk, and restore a bit of order to your workspace.

Here’s what I was able to do just now in five minutes:

  • put away Skype headset
  • filed loose papers into project folders
  • put project folders into filing cabinet
  • put notebooks on shelf
  • gathered teaching books and reshelved them
  • gathered library books and reshelved them
  • collected actionable items (travel forms, invoice, etc) into plastic envelope for later processing

It might not seem like much, but I can now see clear space where I couldn’t before. That gives me an encouraging feeling of progress. More than that — it is progress. If I do one or two five-minute clean-up sprints each day, in a week or so my office will be looking good again.

An added benefit of the five-minute cleanup is that it can change your energy. When I’m feeling stuck on a piece of writing, unsure where to start, or distracted by my tweetstream, simply getting up from my chair, moving around, and doing something that has real, tangible results, invariably helps me refocus.

What can you clean up in five minutes? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user wwarby]

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