Empty Backpack, Zen Backpack?

I work from an office outside my home. I shuttle relevant working materials back and forth (between home and office) in a small backpack.

Today I noticed I have a curious habit of carrying more items in my backpack than I will actually use. If I'm carrying the bag home, for example,  I take more books, files, and papers than I could possibly use before I return to the office. The same is true when moving from home to office-I take more stuff that I actually need.

What I find puzzling about this is: it is a consistent behavior, and I absolutely know I am carrying items I will not use. So why do I do it? Is it because I want options? Is it because I'm worried I might need something and not have it? Is it because I overestimate what I will actually do with the materials I am carrying once I reach my destination?

I tend to think it's that last thing. I overestimate the work I will actually do using the materials I carry. I do the same thing when I take trips; I take too many books, papers, devices.

I find this behavior odd, counterproductive, wasteful, and divisive of my attention. In short, I believe I would actually get more done if I brought home only one item – the item that I actually intend to use before returning to the office. If I brought with me only one file on a business trip-the file I actually will use while on that trip.

I plan to pay a lot more attention to this phenomenon, starting today, whenever I am packing a bag. Whether that be to take the bag home for the night, to take on a business trip, or even if I'm packing my motor home for a long road trip. (Yes, I took too much stuff with me on my three-month journey over the summer in a motorhome. Way too much stuff.)

I wonder if I'm the only person who experiences this phenomena? Because I think it has a direct correlation to business and professional life. My theory is we carry too much “stuff” with us in those contexts, too. And because we do, we are faced with too many choices-too many options-and thus our decision-making ability and our productivity are hampered. What do you think?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Blase

    LOL! I used to travel A LOT and I would pack my briefcase with
    more than I could work on. I would ask myself the same question.

    I think it was a matter of options for me and not knowing what
    I might be interested in doing when I had the time.

    Ray, the bottom line is we are all a little nuts in some way or another. 🙂

  • Mia

    Nobody ever said it better than George Carlin in his classic “Stuff” routine, and nobody ever will.
    Every time I watch this (or even think about it) I laugh at myself and my attachment to “my stuff.”

    • CJ from Article Writing News

      George Carlin's “Stuff” bit is exactly what I was thinking about as I read this post. Spot on!

  • Hey Ray,
    Ah the goog o''le backpack, You are not the only person that experiences this phenomena, We all do this from time to time. I am acutally quite the oposite, when I am preparing to take a trip, I normally only pack the things I THINK I will need, and 9 times out of 10 , when I get there, I say I should have put that in :), But you make do with what you have taken with you because you dont have a choice. Now before I leave to go anywhere, I make a list of the things I will need and most of the time it works out great, NO EXTRA STUFF….
    Thanks for sharing,

  • You're not alone, Ray. I find myself doing the same thing, mostly with binders and ipods! I bring home more stuff at night than I could possibly access by morning, (even if I stayed up all night), then I drag it all back in to the office the next day. Most of it is information… seminar recordings, notes, to-do lists… It's almost as if there's something comforting about dragging it all around with me. Like having a spare brain or two available “just in case.”

    Maybe there should be a name for this… How about EPS: “Entrepreneurial Packrat Syndrome.”


    David Blaise

  • Al

    Well I do the same. On a train journey I pack not one books to read but 2 if I'm being good or 3 if I'm not.


    Options seems to be the obvious answer and not sufficiently planing trips is a better answer!



  • erika

    If I had read this, not knowing who you were, I would have thought you were a public school teacher like me. We struggle with this phenomena ALL THE TIME. The shoulder pain of carrying overstuffed tote bags that resulted in no real progress and its nagging voice has pushed me to change this around. I am determined to make it through this year's commute with only a file folder, handbag, and a lunch box. It is as you said: a habit. For myself, it also a habit of talking to myself. (Maybe all habits are?) I pack the bag so I am telling myself what to do- if the bag is heavy and overflowing and has to come home- it is like telling myself “I'm behind” (whether I really am or not in real work life). If that heavy bag goes untouched, it is telling me “You have failed to get ahead of the game” and I walk into real work life already defeated. Who wants to treat themselves like that? So logic tells me that if I want to have a more positive voice and be ahead of the game, take 1 thing home and finish it. Smaller tasks are easier to accomplish and you get the reward of finishing sooner and a full night's sleep. I could go into this even further but I think I've answered your main question: you are so not alone…

  • I think you are absolutely right! For the past nine months I have been traveling out of town a lot for business, from one to three weeks per month. I observed the same behavior in myself, and have made a radical effort to reduce the amount of “stuff” I carry with me – both personal and business. I just wind up having to pack it, schlep it around, and keep going through it, reminding me of all the stuff I'm not getting done. One of my coaches spoke to me years ago about having less “stuff” around to clutter my mind when working on projects. It totally works. By the way, I encourage people to notice the same thing with regards to their health. Do we really need to eat “all you can eat” at these restaurants? Are we afraid that there's not going to be enough food sometime in the next several hours? Do we really need to “stock up” on as much food as we can stuff down our gullet, “in case” there's a lack of availability of nutrients in the future? It's the same “overestimation” problem. We think that we can get more work done than we can actually get done, because we are ambitious or nervous, or excited. The most important things that one needs when going to work is a good night's sleep, a healthy meal, a timer, and a calm, focused mind. Now see what you can get done.

  • Dan

    I'm the same way. I do much of my work at a coffee shop, where I bring my laptop and a backpack. In my backpack, there's often not only a notebook, and assignment related papers, but three books I MIGHT want to read during breaks. A copywriting book, a spirituality book, maybe a motivational book. Definitely an extra 5-10 pounds in there. I've been minimizing what I bring, and haven't had a “I wish I brought this” moment yet.

  • wrr

    I just did this last week, just in a slightly different way. After years of hauling my 3 decker tackle box across fields to get to a good pond, I got to thinking how I'd carried all that weight just to be able to change lures one time. Plus on the trip back to the truck, almost a half mile, I had to carry about twenty pounds of bass and crappie on the stringer.

    So off to the store I go and got one of those little plastic six compartment boxes that would fit in the front pocket of my cargo shorts. I'll admit, the first time I started across the field without the big box, I was just sure this was a move I'd regret. But I've been three times now and not once have I needed something I didn't have in the little box. Life just got lighter…

  • donniebryant

    I have a slightly different experience of this phenomenon.

    I subscribe to a million email lists, newsletters, etc., JUST IN CASE. You touched on this recently while discussing gurus and their Evil Empire.

    My justification has been, you never know where a breakthrough idea will spring from. Thing is, I almost never even get to read them, or if I do, I skim over them so quickly that the process is really pointless. So I just hold onto 200 messages in my Inbox, for that magical day when I'll have time to attend to them.

    Inspired by comments on this blog, I began unsubscribing and deleting this week. Shouldn't have taken this long to realize what's going on.

    As far as physically carrying excess supplies, I'm the opposite. If I'm working outside of the house, I almost always have to borrow pens….

    • Paulab0204

      Now that sounds familiar! I am trying to tame that nasty “holding on to emails” beast myself