Lifehacker has an excellent article on how “Clearing to Neutral” can help you avoid procrastination. I’d recommend reading the whole article, but here’s the critical idea:

The main idea behind [Clearing to Neutral] is that you set yourself up for success. What that means is that any time you finish your activity, you do a little routine where you set it up so that the next time you start there is no friction. In other words, you setup your environment for next time.

Our friend … uses the analogy of cleaning a grill. In restaurants, the process of cleaning the grill is very important. It ensures the grill will last longer, the food will taste better, and you prevent any bacteria from growing. Before the restaurant closes, the cooks always clean the grill so the next day when they come in it is ready for use.

This is exactly the idea behind Clearing To Neutral and how you need to set yourself up. The reason we call it CTN is because whenever you finish an activity, you need to move everything so everything is in neutral position. When something is neutral, it is stale and you can do anything you want to it.

Now this is why the habit of clearing to neutral is so important: it prevents you from procrastinating in the future. By making sure you clean up your environment and toolkit, you ensure that the next time you need to use them there will be no friction at all. In other words, you make it easy for your “future self” to get started.

I’m not a neat and tidy person by nature, and I almost always prefer to move on to the next bit of fun rather than spend a few minutes “clearing to neutral.” Yet… it makes such a difference! I should, for example:

  • always clear out collected papers and other items from my bag when I return home
  • always put away tools and implements (scissors, superglue, pens) after using them
  • always put away books into their proper place after using them

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty fanatical about “clearing to neutral” in dealing with the horses — whether feeding, riding, or trailering. In those cases, I have a clear routine, and I feel like I’m cutting corners and burdening my future self unless every step is done. Developing those kinds of routines in the messier areas of my life could make a huge difference, I think!

Where do you need to work on “Clearing to Neutral”? Remember, if you clearly identify what counts as “Clearing to Neutral” in a given domain — perhaps even writing it down and posting it somewhere visible — you’ll be much more willing and able to do it when tired, distracted, or eager to move on to the next task. Make “Clearing to Neutral” easy, so that you can do it on autopilot.

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

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