The art of positive deletion

A very important concept in programming is what we coders call “garbage
collection.” Basically, a program is like an old pail of water – if you
don’t make sure all the holes are filled, that water’s gonna go all
over the place. It’ll get everywhere and make your life miserable. A
computer only has so many resources, and holes in a program (e.g. memory
leaks) will keep taking up more and more of those resources until
there’s nothing left.

The concept of garbage collection can be applied to life in general,
though. I call it “positive deletion,” since what you’re doing is
eliminating Stuff from your life so the Stuff doesn’t clog up the rest
of your life. After all, you only have so much Life!

Positive deletion is a combination of time management and spatial
organization. You need to get rid of things that take up resources as
quickly and completely as possible. Parkinson’s Law is only too true,
so you need to make sure you’re only spending as much time on a project
– whether personal or for work – as absolutely necessary. Thomas Edison
couldn’t have invented 1,093 things in his lifetime if he didn’t
understand this principle.

Of course, that doesn’t mean pushing out an incomplete finished
product. Do what needs to be done, but try and do it in half the time
you (or your boss) originally assess it at. If you fail to meet this
ambitious goal, then I guarantee you will at least have made it in under
the original assessment! There are other task/time management techniques
you can use (e.g. batching, worst first, etc.), but they’re out of the scope of this post.

Another aspect of positive deletion is the outright culling of
unnecessary garbage from your life. For example, how much time do you
REALLY need to spend in front of the TV every day? Or the computer?

Try out some of the following tips to get rid of the garbage:

  • Sort out your goals. Make a list of all of your personal and
    work-related goals. Categorize them by importance – Vital, High
    Priority, and Low Priority. Assign due dates to each of them,
    assuming that you will work on only one goal at a time.
  • Knock out the most difficult task first. Also known as the Eat a
    Frog principle, doing this will ensure your day can only get
    better…and you’ll gain self-respect for not procrastinating in
    the process!
  • Reduce your time-wasters. If you’re a chronic TV-watcher, try
    dropping an hour off the time you spend watching the tube every day
    for a month. Next month, another hour. Similarly, if you spend way
    too much time reading email, try the Ferriss method of email
  • Plan your day. Using Google Calendar, 30 boxes, or another
    calendar, plan out tomorrow from waking to sleeping. Include half an
    hour for planning the day after that. Keep doing this for a week. At
    the end of the week, start planning out the entire week after that,
    and so on. Most importantly, stick to the plan! While there will
    inevitably be unforeseen events (such as family emergencies, flat
    tires, etc.), for the most part the plan’ll keep you on track and
    away from the little time-wasters like neuroticly checking email
    every ten minutes.
  • Set limits. Don’t just let yourself “work until it’s done.”
    Set a specific stopping time, and stop when you reach it.

There are many more possibilities here, but those five will be a good
starting point for you. There are a great many other blogs dedicated
specifically to productivity (43 folders, Steve Pavlina, Lifehack, etc.) that will expand on the positive deletion principle. For those of you already familiar with productivity optimization, you may be interested to read Dumb Little Man, as it has some interesting and unique tips that go beyond the usual.

In the end, if you can take charge of your life, you’ll find that the
most valuable currency of all – time – is yours to command. Positive
deletion is but one of many tools to help you with that goal. Try it out
for a month, and see how it affects your life!