Stray thoughts, fears, worries, details to remember: they all add up to mental clutter. What could you accomplish if all that mental space were freed up?
Are you focused and present, or are you mentally running through your to-do list, thinking about email replies, and debating where to go to lunch while also catching up on online reading (like this article for example)?
All those thoughts may be getting in the way of your focused work and progress. This is what we call mental clutter.
We wake up in the morning and check our phones, letting email and news and texts swirl around in our brains before we even brush our teeth. Then the pings start. Someone’s talking to you on Facebook. You want to thank those people for sharing your message on Twitter. You have a bunch of Instagram likes.
The car needs an oil change, the kids need haircuts, the dog needs to have his teeth cleaned at the vet. Did you schedule any of that yet? Do you have a grocery list? What’s for dinner, anyway?
And oh hey, remember that blog comment from yesterday? What did that guy really mean? Should you have replied? Maybe you should have ignored it. Maybe you should go back and delete your comment. Or his comment. Or both? Or neither, it’s probably fine.
And then there’s that project at work—will it be finished on time? Will it work? Will it be as good as that other one? Will your audience get it?
We’re rehashing the past, we’re worrying about the future, and we’re letting administrative details overrun our important ideas. We let digital distractions in, and we try to do everything at once. It isn’t working.
All that stuff takes up so much space that there’s hardly room left over for the work you’re meant to do, whether that’s designing a killer app, or writing the great American novel, or dreaming up a business that the world needs yesterday.
Mental clutter pulls us out of the present moment, out of the projects we’re working on and the people we’re working with.
What if all that mental space were freed up?
What if we decided to become more aware of our distractions? What if we started filtering those distractions, and emptying some of the mess out, too?
What if we set out to conquer that mental clutter? What could we do with that mental space, instead? Here’s what we would do:
We would have more clarity, and more focus.
We’d be able to be more productive and more efficient, and we’d have more bandwidth for creative breakthroughs. We’d be less stressed and less prone to forget details.
We might sleep better, without the chatter keeping us awake. We could focus on the important work, instead of being distracted by the details.
It might not be easy, but no matter which approach you take to clearing out the mental clutter, the results are worth it. Imagine a world where everyone was less distracted, happier, more focused and more productive.
What are we waiting for?
No Sidebar: At Work
Multitasking might be the biggest culprit when it comes to leaving clutter in our minds. When we switch between tasks, we have to keep all the details in mind rather than focusing on one thing at a time. Single tasking, on the other hand, is more enjoyable. It creates focus and increases patience, which in the end helps you get more done. Period.
Or maybe, for you, it’s digital distractions that are creating mental clutter. Tools that interrupt our attention keep you from focusing deeply on your work and goals. If this sounds like you, and to me it sounds like most of us, it might be time for some new digital routines.
The opposite of mental clutter is presence. Creating systems and prioritizing helps you let go of the to-do lists so you can be present and productive.
Coming up with simple strategies like this can help you clear mental space without becoming overwhelmed by the task itself.
No Sidebar: At Home
Believe it or not, physical clutter affects your brain, too. If your home is a mess, clearing your space can be the first step to clearing your mind.
We can take a step further, though, and clean out mental clutter just like we clear our physical clutter. When it comes to creating a happy home life, a thorough mind dump is an essential skill to practice, even if it could use a more appealing name.
Just like no two objects can exist in the same space in your home, no two thoughts can occupy the same space in your mind. Consider which thoughts you dwell on. Consider how these thoughts might be impacting you and those around you.
No Sidebar: In Your Soul
Maybe you’re already a minimalist when it comes to design, but what about minimalism for the soul? We take so in so much information every day, we need a regular practice for decluttering our spirits.
One form of soul clutter are simply distractions but you can learn to be aware of what distracts you from your purpose. You can make intentional decisions about whether to let those interruptions into your day.
We may not be able to see it, but that doesn’t make mental clutter any less draining. Our minds are good for so much more than to-do list storage. What could you accomplish if you ditched the clutter and practiced being fully present?