New Year's Resolution: Make a Big Mess

Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! wants to reduce his mental distraction in 2007 using these rules:

  1. I will unsubscribe from every email list that I don’t consider essential to my work or hobbies. It’s so easy to get occasionally interesting information when I need it (via search) that I shouldn’t be spending mental energy reading a large stream of incoming hay on the off chance that a needle shows up.
  2. I will end every day (both at work and at home) with no open tabs in my browser. I’ve been using tabs as a sort of ad-hoc todo list that has no obvious order or priority and often spirals out of control. No more of that.
  3. While the echo chamber is fun, entertaining, seductive and often frustrating, I will check the various blog amplifiers and aggregators only once a day (barring unusual circumstances).
  4. I will try harder to say no.

It’s hard to argue with taking those sort of steps–the idea of reducing mental clutter must resonate with many Web Worker Daily readers.

But there’s a backlash developing against the idea that the right way to get more done and be more successful is by eliminating clutter of the tangible and intangible sort.

A new book out this week called A Perfect Mess argues that a slavish devotion to orderliness may decrease our productivity and reduce our chances of achieving creative breakthroughs. The authors use a variety of examples to show how “moderately messy systems use resources more efficiently, yield better solutions, and are harder to break than neat ones.

Psychologist Jerrold Polak, quoted in a New York Times article on the “anti-anticlutter movement” says, “It’s chasing an illusion to think that any organization — be it a family unit or a corporation — can be completely rid of disorder on any consistent basis.”

Should we even want to be rid of clutter? The Times article says studies suggest that people with some messiness in their lives may be more creative and earn more money than those who are perpetually organized.

Another recent book, The Joys of Much Too Much by Bonnie Fuller (out in paperback this month), proclaims the benefits of imbalance and chaos and overcommittedness:

After years of trying to make a living at something I love while raising a family, I’ve come to the conclusion that a jam-packed, maxed-out, full-to-the-very-top existence is the secret to an insanely happy life, no matter what those odes to “simplicity” say to the contrary.

I’ve pretty much written off the possibility of ever having peace and quiet in my life.

I guess that somewhere along the line I made the decision that I’d rather lead a life that’s a blur than one that’s a bore.

Fuller would probably reject Zawodny’s approach to simplifying by reducing mental distraction. She says:

Simplifying down to the most precious objects and actions will result in sterility, which is the road to spiritual ruin and mental rigor mortis! I believe in cutting out negative things and people, but why would you want to cut down on stimuli?

Sometimes achieving our goals requires accepting (or making) what seems like a big mess, juggling tons of incoming emails and RSS feeds and personal favors and professional projects. But sometimes too much is just too much, not joyful in any way, just distracting and exhausting.

What do you think about mess versus disorder, about reducing clutter and demands versus taking on as many projects and as many stimuli as you can? Do you aim to simplify or messify in 2007?

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