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Clear your clutter, free your mind

When my desk is uncluttered, my mind works better. I seem to think more clearly. Research suggests that as we age, clutter, including half-made decisions, makes life more difficult and actually can affect mental clarity. Messy areas and untended "stuff" distract us and add stress to our lives.

This was reaffirmed when I cleaned two of the drawers in our kitchen. The level of satisfaction stayed with me for weeks. Even now, when I open one of those drawers and see forks nicely separated from knives and spoons in their own spaces, I feel almost smug. Why, I actually could find a thumb tack if I needed one. That would be in the drawer where I also found several dollars in dimes and pennies during my cleaning-out process. Sometimes there are unexpected benefits to doing something you've been putting off.

Decisions are like that. We feel better after we make them. We sort through issues and get to the bottom of things, stop "sitting on" stuff and take action. Stay with me here — I have an end game in mind.

So, let's say you're thinking about an even larger issue than a messy drawer. Maybe you're deciding whether and when to have a particular medical procedure. Use this illustration. You recognize you're due for a colonoscopy, but you've not made the arrangements — you keep putting it off. (This may feel a little personal — if it does, it's probably exactly the right illustration).

Start by writing down the issue or decision to be made. You might word it something like this, "I'm older than 50, the age at which you should start having colonoscopies, and I've not made an appointment yet." You might want to describe in writing why you have been putting it off. Make your description as clear and succinct as possible. But don't spend a lot of time on it — no more than a few minutes.

Got it all down? Now, put that piece of paper away. Forget it completely for a few days — even weeks. Make a date with yourself about when to revisit it. In the interim, don't think about it at all. Unless, of course you have a strong family history of colon cancer, or are having some disquieting symptoms. That suggests more urgency. If that's your situation, there are many informative Web sites, here's one: www.gastro.org/patient. (And remember your colorectal screening, may be covered by Medicare.)

It's a few days later. Pull out that paragraph you wrote. Review, edit and/or amend it.

(It's a write-it-down-and-let-it-hatch-process that can work for any kind of decision-making, but we're focused on your colon for the moment.)

You've let the decision "incubate." That's the term David Allen uses in his book "Making it All Work." (www.davidco.com) His work is sometimes referred to as praxology, i.e. the theory of practical action, and his flow-charting approaches are much more comprehensive than this little idea of mine about how to prompt you to get a colonoscopy scheduled.

But I think he might agree. The beginning of the New Year is the perfect time to get all cleaned out.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.