The simple question you need to ask when organising anything
FORGET all the complicated tips and tricks you've heard for organising your life, a Perth writer says there's just one question you need to ask yourself.
And that is: "When did you use this item last?"
Tom Griffiths, co-author of Algorithms To Live By with Brian Christian, says approaching life as if you were a computer can make everything far more simple.
"If you've ever had to tidy your wardrobe, you've run into the agonising decision, should I keep this or throw it away?
"Martha Stewart says you should ask yourself four questions - how long have I had it? Is it functional? Is it a duplicate of something else? And when did you last wear it?
"But other experts who design the memory systems of computers thought longer and harder, and said one question is more important than the others. When did you use it last?"
Griffiths, speaking at TedxSydney, revealed that organising things in order of when you last used them is the "most effective" strategy for accessing what you need quickly.
He said the hack can work for anything from the papers on your desk, the equipment in your kitchen and the bottles in your bathroom cabinet. And it's far simpler than Marie Kondo's cult tidying system.
Japanese economist Noguchi Yukio invented an incredibly simple, self-organising method for filing documents. Don't try to classify or or sort your papers. Instead, whenever you take a document off the shelf, put it back on the far left.
Over time, your most frequently used items will be on the left, things you need occasionally will be in the middle, and things you rarely or never use will be on the right, so you can consider archiving or throwing them out.
The Noguchi Filing System can also work with a simple pile of papers (or jumpers, or T-shirts), says Griffiths. If you put the most recently used at the top each time, and then always search from the top, you have minimised the length of your search.
Griffiths has another simple trick that can help with tough decisions around the "explore or exploit trade off".
If you know a good restaurant in an area, should you exploit your knowledge and go there? Or do you explore somewhere new, taking the risk it might not be good? And when is it worth making the effort to find new friends or listen to a new band, rather than sticking to what you know?
He says the key question is: How much longer are you around?
When you're a baby, you have a long life ahead of you and that's why it's worth trying different things. As you get older, you can rule more out.
If you're only in town for one night and you know a good restaurant, there's no point gaining knowledge of the area's best places, so go with the one you know you like. If you are living somewhere longer term, it's worth testing new eateries. "The value increases the longer time you have," says Griffiths.
While he admits that "organising your wardrobe or desk is not the most pressing problem we have", the author believes we can simplify our lives and still achieve an optimal result.
"The best algorithms are about doing what makes the most sense at the time," he says.
"There's no way we can consider all the options. As long as you use the best process, you've done the best you can. Solving simpler problems can give you insight and help you to relax."
His book introduced the world to the secret number that can answer all life's questions.
When searching for a house to buy, choosing a restaurant from a street full of them or deciding whether your partner is "the one", there is a magic figure for how many of the options it's worth looking at - 37 per cent.
If you have three months to find a house (13 weeks) spend 37 per cent (five weeks) looking, then bid on the first thing you see that beats everything that's gone before. If the street is 1000 metres long, walk along 370m of it, then pick a restaurant. If you have an hour to buy a gift, spend the first 22 minutes browsing. If you want to find a partner between 18 and 35, choose the next best person you meet after 24.
"Human life is filled with computational problems," says Griffiths.
You may believe in going with your instincts, but to avoid decision fatigue, sometimes it helps to think like a machine.