Knowledge Is Power
It’s a universal truth that knowledge is power, but possessing thousands of tiny scraps of paper with bits of information…merely POTENTIAL knowledge…can actually make you feel powerless. If your office, kitchen, desk, or car is littered with clipped articles, Post-Its®, scraps torn from the newspaper, and flyers left on your windshield, you are clutter-rich but information-poor. After all, what does it benefit us to possess useful information–or for that matter, useful gadgets, supplies…or anything, really– if we can’t find it when we need it or put it to use on our own timetable, rather than when it happens to flutter to the floor or cause us to trip over it? A 2-inch square newspaper blurb about how to get rid of aphids or avoid identity theft is merely clutter unless it is immediately retrievable when we want it.
The two keys to gaining power from information are knowing what to keep (vs. what to toss out) and where to keep it. The approach is similar whether you are dealing with individual bits of information or entire issues of periodicals.
To decide what to keep, in terms of loose scraps of information, ask yourself:
In what circumstances (when, where, why, how) would I use this? If your need is not immediate, are you likely to need or want this information in the next 6-12 months? If the likely need won’t arise for over a year (such as wedding planning articles when your oldest child is in junior high), wait until the need exists and then get more appropriate and up-to-date information. If you will not be in the market for a new car, camera or computer in the next few years, holding onto unread scraps of articles about today’s models is a waste of space and effort.
Can this information be retrieved in other ways? Could you access this same information via the telephone book, the Internet or by calling an expert? If so, using the prime real estate of your desk, kitchen counter or bedside table to maintain piles of tiny clippings is counterproductive.
Do I already possess similar or better information on this subject? If you subscribe to a specialty magazine on A.D.D., finances or travel, chances are good that a very general article from the newspaper won’t yield superior information. Not all information is equally valid, equally valuable or equally well-presented. Save the best and discard the rest.
For whom am I saving this? So often, we clip articles for friends or family members but forget to pass them along. Call your friends and read the blurb aloud to them (or their answering machines) and be done with it! We also take undue responsibility for making sure others in our lives stay informed on topics ostensibly of interest to them. It’s fine to occasionally clip an article if you have access to a resource your friend does not, but the codependency clutter you’ve amassed on someone else’s behalf isn’t good for anyone.
Once you have purged out all of the articles and clippings you no longer need or want, what remains will be items for current use or for reference. If the item is something you want to read and act upon soon, put it in your tickler file to schedule yourself to act on the item in question—call for more information about an event or program, reserve the book at your library, use the coupon to purchase the product, and so on. If the clipping is for reference, develop a hanging file or binder system for general information in broad categories of health, finances, travel, home decor, etc. mirroring your own family-specific, personalized file system for similar topics and file it all away. Even archived reference material should be reviewed regularly to make sure the information is still valid.
BOUND READING MATERIAL
If you have piles of magazines, newspapers, or professional journals, ask:
Have I read this cover-to-cover at least three times out of the past five issues? If the answer is no, you probably lack either the sustaining interest or the time to devote to the material. After all, a 6-week old newspaper or last month’s Newsweek no longer reflects current events, but history. The summer gardening tips in last spring’s Southern Living issues might very well be interesting, but if you haven’t gotten around to reading them by the following winter, it’s time to let them go. The great thing about the American magazine industry is that topics are cyclical–there will be another article on the same topic, whether it’s “10 Marketing Tips For Your Small Business” or “Best Exercises For A Flatter Tummy” or “How To Organize For Tax Season”, coming up in just a few issues, so you need not fear ridding yourself of a gem amid the clutter.
A few tips for dealing with the magazine/newspaper backlog:
- Throw it all out and start with a clean slate. Starting fresh is liberating, and it makes you less likely to backslide. Donate the magazines to your library’s book sale or local medical clinic (but be sure to remove your address label).
- Set a deadline…any unread monthly magazine more than two months old gets tossed; say goodbye to unread weeklies after two weeks or newspapers by Sunday night…and consider canceling your subscription. You can always read back issues at the library when you have more time.
- Block time to catch up on your reading. Locate the magazines you want to read in a To Read pile or basket near where it’s convenient for you to read, and actually schedule time, whether for 15 minutes or an hour, into your day or week. Professionals can take advantage of cancelled appointments to catch up on reading professional journals. Busy parents can carry a tote bag to read in the car-pool line.
- Pan for gold. Instead of reading magazines cover-to-cover, scan the table of contents and go directly to the articles that interest you, bypassing the glossy ads. Tear articles of interest out of 3 to 5 magazines or journals at one sitting and put them all in a manila folder you can carry in your tote or briefcase to read when you are stuck in a ridiculously long line at the Post Office or waiting to see the dentist. Toss finished articles in the trash wherever you are, and feel confident that your brain is certainly a more secure place to store information than the floorboard of your car.
- Do team reading. Don’t feel you have to read everything that’s published on a particular subject–share the load. Band together with colleagues with a plan that each of you will cover one major trade journal; meet for lunch or coffee on a weekly or monthly basis to discuss the articles each of you reviewed. You’ll be well versed in your topic of choice and you’ll pay more attention knowing you’ll be accountable for sharing the knowledge with someone else.
Remember, information equals potential knowledge, and therefore potential power. Achieve your potential…attain your power…but get rid of the scraps.
Copyright © 2005 Julie Bestry and Best Results Organizing. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Julie Bestry is a professional organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Her most recent book is 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business. For information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at http://www.juliebestry.com.
You may reprint this article, as long as you include all of the above text, the About the Author box and a working link to http://www.juliebestry.com