How to Clean Up the Mess You’ve Made This Year

There are benefits and consequences to living a life of priority. On the one hand, we’re incredibly productive. On the other, the things that aren’t priority often get thrown into chaos.

When you commit yourself to your ONE Thing every day, you’re saying “no” to something else. The longer we stay committed, the more what we say no to piles up. So, if you’ve stuck through committing to your ONE Thing all year, you’ve probably lived your life like a hurricane. While you’ve gotten stronger, the chaos you’ve created as a result has left a pretty big mess in your wake. And as the year closes out, you probably feel a little bit of pressure to bust out the broom to clean it all up.

Let’s do something about that.

Accounting for a Year’s Worth of Chaos

The first step to handling any measure of chaos is to get our ducks in a row.

When it feels like our whole world is a giant mess, it’s easy to think that there’s more going on than there actually is. For our more optimistic readers, the opposite can be just as true. We won’t know what we need to manage and reorganize in our lives until we take stock of everything that’s sitting on our plate.

Open up a word document or bust out a pen and piece of paper. Take a few minutes to list out every task or area of your life that’s become chaotic. This lets you put a name to the chaos in your life. Then, with this information in hand, you can rank each issue in order of priority.

Assign Priority

Beyond our highest priority, there’s a cascading list of smaller priorities. Everything in our life from taking a shower in the morning to pulling the covers up as we go to sleep can be ranked in order of importance. The list of what’s causing chaos in your life isn’t any exception.

Yeah, we know priority got you into this beautiful mess. The funny thing is, it’ll also help get you out of it.

When filling out your list, you might have noticed that some items are more urgent than others. And that’s great, it means you already have a sense of what should become a high-level priority.

We consider an urgent item something that, if it doesn’t get done, it will eventually derail our progress on our ONE thing. Examples of chaos that demand our urgency range from paying our energy bills to hiring leverage. If you find any urgent items on your list, make sure you put those right at the top of the list.

Cut It in Half

When you have a clear list of priority, prepare yourself for an uncomfortable question:

If you had to cut your list in half, what tasks would you feel compelled to keep and which ones could you manage to ignore?

Although answering this question can appear to simplify the demands on your time by showing which ones ultimately don’t deserve your effort, it also creates a new bout of chaos.

(Yes, this post is still about solving the chaos in your life. But there’s a dirty little secret about chaos: It never goes away.)

If we’re making progress on our ONE Thing, that means we’re saying “no” to something else.  If we choose to address the chaos in our life, then guess what? We’re still saying “no” elsewhere, which further creates chaos in other areas of our lives.

Chaos is a perpetual cycle of productivity. In order to handle it, we need to embrace imperfection.

Find Wabi-Sabi with Everything Else

What’s important is that we choose to address what’s important. Everything else is everything else.

When handling chaos, the key is to bring order to the pieces that are actively keeping us from our ONE Thing, and then come to peace with the fact that when we live a big life, some areas are just going to stay a mess. And that’s perfect.

In Japanese culture there’s a philosophy called “wabi-sabi.” Although there are a number of translations, “wabi” generally means “beauty in simplicity” and “sabi” means “beauty in the growing imperfection of aging.” Together, they refer to a viewpoint that imperfection is perfection.

As described in a textbook on the subject called Complexity and Management, even something as simple as the rhythm of our heartbeats, which is consistent when averaged out over time, is “regularly irregular” when put under the microscope. Every small imperfection in our heartbeat is smoothed out to perfection as time goes on.

If we spend too much time giving worry and attention to the small pieces of chaos that don’t interfere with our long-term goals, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important.

Recently I watched The Last Samurai. It’s a movie about a samurai named Katsumoto who leads a rebellion against the westernization of Japan and an American named Nathan Algren who learns to appreciate the Japanese way of life and joins their cause. In one scene Algren joins Katsumoto in his garden for a friendly conversation. Surrounded by cherry blossoms the samurai remarks, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

Toward the end of the movie, the two men take a final stand against their enemies and Katsumoto’s life comes to an end. In his final moments, he spots a cherry blossom in the distance and his eyes tear up. Embracing Algren, in his final words he shares an epiphany, “Perfect. They are all perfect.”

It’s really a beautiful scene that shows how powerful wabi-sabi can be. Rather than searching for a “perfect” blossom that might never materialize, we can appreciate the beauty in imperfect flowers. Similarly, if we dedicate too much time and energy toward solving never-ending chaos, there’s a chance that we might miss the big picture.

If you have a hard time accepting that you can’t solve every piece of chaos in your world after a year-long pursuit of your ONE Thing, it might help to start a new list of how creating that chaos has allowed you to take stride in the areas of your life that are most valuable to you.

What areas of chaos are you going to address, and which ones are you going to ditch as you head into the new year? Join our Facebook page and join our community to get support in your mission!

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