Sometimes, things that we think are minor or relatively unimportant turn out not to be so minor after all. They end up taking on a life of their own. Their significance is more widespread than we realized at first, and the changes and results that come about because of them are more profound and impactful than we ever imagined they could be.

It seems that that’s going to be the case with a new project I’ve just taken on, and it’s the one I wrote about in my column last week: clearing out my inbox. I vowed to spend half an hour every day working on this until the only email in my inbox is whatever’s come in since the last time I checked it.
A number of changes have already occurred since I started working on this, including some that I didn’t foresee.

One of them is a new sense of strength, discipline and motivation. It’s the same kind of feeling that comes when you start a new exercise program, and you notice after a week or so that you’re not getting winded the way you used to while walking up a flight of stairs or carrying in a week’s worth of groceries. Maybe you didn’t even realize you were getting winded before, but you now notice that you’re not. And it’s a good feeling, even if you haven’t lost the 15 pounds that was your reason to start exercising in the first place. That goal may still be far away, but you’ve got a new source of motivation to keep you going.

One of the things that motivates me, although it seems almost silly when I call attention to it, is using a tool to chart my progress. Nothing fancy, just something where I log in the date and my start-and-end totals. For some reason this makes it seem like a game – which is always more fun than work. But it also serves as “evidence.” If I skip a day and I’m not keeping track of it, it’s just a day that slips by without my taking action. But if I’m writing down my daily progress, any absence shows up in black and white. And I don’t want that on my record. I’m not sure why this is such an effective motivator, but it is.

Another change that’s already happening is in the way I think about and treat email as it comes in. When I see a new email, I automatically ask myself, “What do I need to do to process this as quickly as possible?”

I know that’s what I should have been doing all along, but knowing it and doing it are two different things. My problem has always been that if it’s not something I can take care of easily and immediately, I leave it until later. This, of course, is the kiss of death that quickly leads to an overwhelming backlog.

The interesting thing is that I wasn’t actively trying to change my way of thinking when I first started the project. I knew it would have to be part of the “Maintenance” phase, but it already started happening on its own.

What I’m most excited about is that I’ll be able to use this in other areas of my life – anything in which I need to clear out accumulation caused by bad habits, and develop the good habits that will keep the same thing from happening over and over again. It’s the same principle that helps us to both lose weight and keep it off, to declutter our homes and keep clutter from piling back up, and to get rid of emotional baggage and replace it with healthier thoughts, actions and beliefs.
I’m amazed that all of this has come from what felt at first like a housecleaning project. I have no idea what else I’ll discover along the way, but I’m sure there’s more to come. I can’t wait to find out what it is.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on March 8, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012