THE BLOG
03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What's Your Standard For 'Stuff'?

At a certain point, you will get it together.

When the number of used glasses and cups in your living area reaches a certain point, you will clean them up. For some people one is too many. Someone puts one down, they pick it up. Some people, however, will only do something about the glasses and cups when there are no more clean ones. Different standards for "stuff."

At a certain point, you will clean up your email. For some people twenty is too many. And for some, it's five thousand. There are different standards for "stuff."

These standards are very powerful unconscious drivers of your behavior and permitted experience. You may consciously think you'd like to keep a neater house, or process your email more regularly, but if you don't change the set-point of the real standards you have about the amount of out-of-control-ness you actually will tolerate, they will slide back in spite of your best intentions. Pit your willpower against your unconscious cruise controls, and guess where I'll place my bets.

If the good fairy visited everyone you know and work with right now and magically dissolved every email sitting in IN, within days the number would be back up to the comfort zone of the individual. Some people would have twenty, some three hundred, and some two thousand. Even people doing the same jobs, at the same level, with the same amount of input.

So what?

I assert that, for email, it's actually less effort to maintain it at zero than to maintain it at three hundred. As opposed to drinking glasses, for which the next action (wash) is obvious, that decision still needs to be made for much of what lies in IN. Hence it is still "stuff," i.e. something in your world for which the action is still unclear. Every time you even slightly notice it again and do not dispatch it, it wastes energy. Specifically, every time you open an email, close it, leave it in IN and move on without making a decision, you waste energy.

Also, have you noticed that you don't throw paper on the ground in a clean park? But as soon as there's any trash at all, it has broken the code and more trash accumulates than would otherwise. As soon as you allow indecision on the front end with any of your input, you have broken the code and it will mount up all around you.

And what happens when the person who won't let one used glass mount up marries or goes into business with someone who doesn't notice until there are no clean ones left?

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You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at www.davidco.com/.

The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.