10/15/2007 08:00 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Categorizing Your "Stuff" Is The Path To Freedom

Categorizing creates freedom, not constriction. Many people avoid categorizing because they are avoiding making a decision about something. Should I read this article? File it? Throw it away? Pass it on to someone?

I was just reminded of this again having dinner with a good friend last night who commented on the freedom he had experienced in reading my materials and applying that kind of categorization to many of his creative ideas, commitments, and "stuff."

In fact, if you had to call in the Organization Paramedics because you're so out of control, they should run in with a big box labeled "All the Stuff I Don't Understand or Know What to Do With." Then they'd scour your whole environment, and throw everything in that box that you're not sure what to do with. In an hour you'd be totally organized--if you didn't know where something was, you'd now know where it was! And the whole rest of your world would be in its place!

Naming things gives us power over them. If you label all your crap "crap," you'd probably feel a lot better.

It's another version of the freedom that comes from clarifying and renegotiating your agreements with yourself. But because you need to know what those agreements are before they can be renegotiated, you must group them as such.

Naming something we're involved in lessens its grip on us. If I'm feeling negative, when I realize it and call it "negativity" I instantly have greater freedom of choice about what to do with or about it. When I'm just in it, and haven't called it what it is, I allow its control.

The key is to name as accurately as possible. If we mis-label, we run the risk of locking ourselves into limitation. To say "I'm a disorganized person" is probably not true (you couldn't get out of bed if you were truly disorganized!) To say "my thoughts and paperwork about my finances are disorganized" might be more accurate, and would lend direction to resolution and change.

In the short-term freedom of not deciding, people usually constrict themselves with the pressure that they should/ought to be deciding....

I use my tickler file as an elegant tool to deal with this. I'll often get things in my in-basket that I just don't know what to do with yet (especially neat things to buy from catalogs). I just ask myself, "When will I be smarter?" and tickle it to show up again then. (See my article on Tickler File.)

It's perfectly fine to decide not to decide. You just need a decide-not-to-decide system.


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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.