On The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up & Productivity

“I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character.”

Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, p47


While talking about organization, my neighbor had recommended Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Apparently, it’s been quite the hit in the world of organizing, so I decided to give it a try.

The number of books on organization can ironically choke a bookshelf or ten. After all, the concept of organization itself is broad.

It is rare for me to find any single book on the subject that I fully enjoy.  Instead, I pick and choose ideas among many. For an approach to work well, it needs to be both broad enough to capture a mindset and specific enough to present a how-to.

Marie Kondo’s books The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy does hit these points.

Generally, her practice is about:

  • Recognizing the things you care for
  • Enhancing the signal to noise ratio by discarding what you do not care for, and then
  • Actively caring.

She also describes, more specifically, how she goes through a process of organization, both in terms of categories, and in the detailed how-to of individual items.

In addition, some of her ideas share commonalities with being productive and task management, some of which I’ll describe below.


A Measure of Joy

What I find most interesting is the simplicity at the center of Kondo’s approach.  She begins and maintains the journey by instructing the reader to pick up every object and ask,

  • Does it spark joy?
  • If it does, keep it.
  • If it does not, get rid of it.

Clearly, there is a parallel to most books on organization which start with a purging process. However, the measure of “joy” is deceptively brilliant.

A sense of “joy” automatically takes into account conscious and unconscious meanings behind an object’s presence in our lives. We don’t have to fully know why something is meaningful in order to find it a place.

Much like any creative endeavor, we don’t often see the meaning or what the end  will look like from where we are. Creativity is a process of discovery. Perhaps we can approach organization the same way.

When we actively and systemically consider the meaning of objects in our environments, we gain the ability to shape our environments to support us in the ways we find meaningful. The more things in our environment that do not somehow “spark joy” the more difficult it is to get to those things that do. Removing these objects enhances the signal to noise ratio of things that do support joy in our lives.

Now, of course, our tax papers or a needed but not inherently joyful tool may not seem to fit the bill. However, in these cases, one needs to only consider how they support joy throughout life elsewhere.


A Sentient Environment

Kondo views her belongings as having near sentience. Throughout her writing, she expresses a reverence for a near animistic world. She thanks the items she discards for their service to her. She considers the feelings of the clothes she folds.

I do wonder if her approach may put off some readers. But her presentation and self-reflection strikes me as someone with full candor and honesty. So, however one approaches their environments, one cannot help but be enamored by Kondo’s love of her work and world.


Productivity and Joy

Productivity is about regularly asking our environments and our habits if they are supporting us in the development of what we find meaningful, and, if not, how can they be improved? In this way, productivity is very much about organization.

Perhaps, we may even apply the Joy measure to our projects. For example, during a weekly review, could we decide on keeping and dropping projects as they relate to joy? Certainly not all projects spark joy directly. Where is the joy in cleaning out the basement? But once again, if we can connect a project to how and where it does or would support joy and develop meaning in our lives, we may find the project as meaningful itself.


Creating Homes for Objects and Projects

An important aspect of organization is creating a home for every object.  Similarly, we can consider the home and paths of our projects, perhaps even trying to make them pleasant where possible.

However, a project’s home occupies a different form of space.  For example, for every project, we can consider:

  • How often should this project be reviewed?
  • What is my vision of this project’s present and future?
  • Is there a well-written next action in a well-curated action list?
  • Are the relevant supplies and references easily reached from the project?


The Role of Acknowledgement

Kondo expresses “thanks” to the objects she disposes of. The practice may seem odd, and I can’t say I’ve truly given this my all. But it is a practice of acknowledgment.

It is not as simple as saying just “Thank you.” She is thoughtful. Importantly, she reflects on how she is thankful.

Examples include,

  • Thank you for being there at a certain time in my life.
  • Thank you for having supported me with _____.
  • Thank you for teaching me that I do not have time for you.

Saying, “Thank you” acknowledges the past self that brought, allowed, or accepted the object into our world. It also acknowledges that its time of support has passed and that things end, which is not always so easy or obvious for us to accept.

Further, while we may acknowledge an end in physical presence, we may still recognize that it has helped shape us into who we are in the present.

The process of individually handling each object and going through this process of acknowledgment, allowing thoughts to settle, helps to clear not only our environments, but more importantly our mind.

One can also consider where an object goes in the act of discarding. Finding things a new home may provide a sense of continued story for the objects, particularly when they are still held dear, yet do not spark joy in current times.

In the same way, perhaps we can say “Thank you” to projects we decide to drop. At times, we thank it for teaching us the limits of time, the excitement it once gave us, or the dreams of another time.

The Productivityist Podcast – Zen and The Art of Work with Kourosh Dini

The Productivityist Podcast: Zen and The Art of Work with Kourosh Dini

I really enjoyed my interview with Mike Vardy over at The Productivityist. We get into a discussion of mindful productivity, which is a lot of what my writings and course are about. I’ve enjoyed a practice of meditation for years, and it seems that a lot of ideas developed in that time has been folded into the work.

I hope you enjoy it!

What Is Psychoanalysis, And Would It Help Me?

When a person comes to see a psychoanalyst, they are in some form of pain. They feel sad, grief, worry, anger, unable to find sense or meaning in life, creativity, success. They feel unable to organize themselves, to find love, sex, friendships, and more.

More often, it is difficult to even put these thoughts together. They are in a rut and just can’t seem to find a way out.

Psychoanalysis is about helping a person find a way out of that rut. Sometimes a path quickly becomes clear. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there isn’t one, and the hope is to build a path to a better, more meaningful, world.

Many forces and emotions can impact and overwhelm us. Ideas and preconceptions formed over the years affect how we see the world. To say they are complex is an understatement. But when we begin to see them, we also begin to realize their impact and how often we allow them to keep us prisoner.

Psychoanalysis helps a person find the choices they didn’t realize they had.

You might wonder, …

“Can I do this work on my own? Why would I need to do this with someone else?”

You can do a lot on your own. Journaling, meditating and exercising mindfulness, finding benefit in hobbies and exercise, and more can all be beneficial. However, meeting with someone else in a space that you feel is trustworthy, to hold your thoughts, concerns, and worries is quite a different experience. The problems that plague you in the outside world of relationships will more than likely find their way into your relationship with your analyst. And when they do, the nature of the relationship is that you can now examine it.

“Isn’t psychoanalysis proven false?”

Contrary to popular belief, not at all. The concepts of a world of thought and emotion influencing our motivations, resistance to change, templates of relationships, and more are quite alive and well. Though more modern therapies may seem somehow “new and improved” or even try to say psychoanalysis is not useful, at their core, they all utilize psychoanalytic principles that have grown and evolved since the late 1800’s.

“Wasn’t Freud a quack?”

Freud did a lot to consider the mind in his time and era. He had his own foibles and anxieties, some of which found their way into his work. All creations suffer the same fate; an artist indelibly leaves a personal stamp despite best efforts otherwise. Meanwhile, what Freud started has since grown, evolved, and developed into the modern day with the help of many bright minds. Comparing psychoanalysis now and then is like comparing a high-performance car to a buggy.

“Yeah, but isn’t psychoanalysis anti-women? And what about that killing your father and having sex with your mother thing? And why does everything relate to sex?”

Many of the principles and ideas have shifted and evolved over the years. Metaphorical concepts, such as the Oedipal relationship, are about navigating triangular relationships. Feelings of competition, jealousy, admiration, and more are readily seen. These may pertain to your situation, or they may not.

Alos, not everything is about sex. Much more central is the concept of meaning. What is meaningful to you, how that came to be, how that motivates you and shapes your world view, how that impacts your approach to others, and more are the central focus. Of course, sex can be important, too, as that might just happen to be meaningful to you.

Further, many powerful feminist voices have come from psychoanalysts, including S. Freud’s own daughter, Anna Freud.

“Why does psychoanalysis take so long? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy takes weeks.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) is a very useful therapeutic style. It tends to focus on diagnoses or particular thought patterns. From there, one uses a manualized or standardized approach to address those concerns. A solid CBT therapist can be flexible where needed, empathic, and very helpful in teaching someone to manage many symptoms using this approach.

Psychoanalysis, however, involves meeting someone with a higher frequency and over a longer course of time, sometimes 3-5 times per week over the course of years. As a result, the changes tend to be deeper, longer lasting, and more influential in one’s world.

As an example, someone complaining of depression may come of out a CBT therapist’s office with concrete actionable tasks to do, which can certainly help depressive feelings. The same person walking out of a psychoanalyst’s office, however, may begin making larger changes in work and relationships that in turn will help with depressive feelings.

Some in the mental health community will even argue that CBT is a gold standard for certain diagnoses, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While I do believe CBT can be tremendously helpful in such cases, I have personally seen some who found yet further benefit in psychoanalysis.

“Can’t I just meditate or be mindful?”

Meditation is absolutely powerful and useful. But it is more orthogonal to therapy than it is competitive. Meditation is an ancient practice that can improve psychological health much like solid exercise. I believe it has been helpful to me and can be quite beneficial to many, many others.

But it won’t necessarily address the problematic interactions and learned behaviors of the years. Meditation is wonderful for learning how to be with your emotions, not react to them, listen to them, and use them in your decisions. Psychoanalysis helps you to understand the impact of your decisions and how you form them. The practices overlap but are not at all exclusive of each other. In fact, a primary practice of psychoanalysis known as “free association” can readily be recognized as a type of meditation itself.

“Psychoanalysis is expensive.”

The cost of psychoanalysis is not inconsequential. The finances of meeting with a fully trained analyst regularly can compete with a college education. However, there are ways to reduce costs.

Many years of training go into creating a psychoanalyst. To be a therapist, at all, can take about 2 years post college. To be a psychoanalyst, though, can take at least 7 years post college and more often takes quite a few more. As a personal example, if you count medical school, I did 18 years of post-college study and work until I graduated as a psychoanalyst.

Having said that, some health insurances will cover at least some of the costs involved. It may be worth speaking with your insurance provider to discuss the possibilities.

Further, there are training institutions that offer low fee work. Sometimes those fees can be quite significantly lowered. It’s worth calling a psychoanalytic institute in your area to find out if they have students in training. They should have a seasoned supervisor involved with the case.

To put things in perspective, the cost of an average brain surgery is between $50k-150k. Of course, that can mean the difference between life and death. In psychoanalysis, sometimes the stakes are the same. Often, though the difference is between living a miserable life, and finding one that is rich and meaningful. Interestingly enough, some people find that because of the better decisions they are making, they wind up earning a significantly larger income than before the analytic work and then make up the cost. In that way, it can be a financial as well as emotional investment.

“What about medication?”

Medication can be very useful depending on the person.

At times, I’ve compared medication to a brace. If you injure your ankle, you might put on a brace. Therapy helps move the objects that contributed to the injury in the first place as well as strengthens the body. The brace helps to minimize further injury and supports you in the work. The analogy is not without its limits, but it is helpful.

However, medications can also be turned to as a fix for something that is better addressed in therapy. For example, someone may feel that they have ADHD as they have difficulty focusing and are falling behind at work and with home tasks. However, sometimes, the work environment may indeed be overwhelming and, more importantly, there are difficulties in learning how to advocate for one’s self that are more at play. Learning those skills would then help create an environment that can make work not only tolerable but sometimes even enjoyable and more meaningful. At other times, the symptoms of difficulty with focus are more related to anxiety, and once again, may be addressed with therapy.

A good therapist will help you learn to acknowledge emotion and find when medication may or may not be a good option.

“Why meet so often? What’s the difference with regular weekly therapy?”

Similar to an exercise or learning a skill, you get what you put in. Further, some things don’t happen without a certain intensity. To compare using an analogy, one’s physical health is much different when working out once per week versus four times per week. One’s ability to learn a language is vastly different at one class per week versus multiple classes per week.

Learning your own emotional landscape is no different.

With that said, there are many who benefit quite well from 1-2 sessions per week. Some do fine with even less. It really depends on how you use the therapy, your relationship with your therapist, and what you’re looking for.

Lecture on Video Game Play and Problems

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Video games are good … or bad … or addictive … or fun … or the bane of society … or something that brings people together … or helps surgeons perform well … or makes people lose their jobs and fail at school …

Ok. So what gives? If you’d like to know, join me at a talk at the PIAT Conference at the Dominican University (PDF Download) this Saturday, March 18th.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in a book I’ve written on the subject, check it out here.

Spoiler alert: I like video games, but they can be played problematically just like anything else. Also, I’m currently playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Overcooked. They’re cool.