We Americans spend millions each year producing clutter and then millions more clearing it from home and office. But what about the debris that clutters your mind? My nine years as a Professional Organizer and Productivity Trainer have convinced me that mental clutter poses a greater threat to quality of life—and work—than any physical mess does.
What is mental clutter?
The contents of mental clutter vary. A large portion of it is task and project reminders. As Brahma Kumaris explains, “A task left undone remains undone in two places: at the actual location of the task and inside your head. Incomplete tasks in your head consume the energy of your attention as they gnaw at your conscience.” It’s as if your brain runs a software program called “To-do” that sends you alarms when you need them or when you don’t. It runs all the time. Mental clutter also results from technology overload. 24-hour-a-day texts, emails and calls prevent us from getting the rest needed to replenish energy and achieve perspective. Yet another component of brain clutter can be found in emotions. Emotional clutter may include open or buried resentments, grief, or unfulfilled dreams, etc. The psychic energy needed to stifle this volatile mix may prevent you from applying that energy towards positive, forward action.
You Can Clear the Debris
Everyone has mental clutter; it’s the amount you have that determines how well you function and how good you feel. A tiny bit and you feel great. A lot of it and you feel overwhelmed, stuck on a treadmill, and burned out. People hire me to help them experience the joy and freedom of mental clarity, but you can clear much of the clutter in your own mind by following these three suggestions.
Develop a System You Trust
The only way to shut down your “To-do” software is to replace it with a system of managing your tasks and projects that you trust. Gather all your to-do’s in one place, out of your head, so that you can prioritize effectively. Review them regularly so that your brain doesn’t have to remind you of them. Consciously choose to delete some items so that unrealistic expectations stop weighing you down. Keep your system updated and soon your brain will know it’s safe to DO your work instead of reminding you OF it.
Set Limits with Technology
It’s not just the constant access that wearies you. Letting technology control you crushes your spirit. So take back your power. Set and honor a cut-off time for handling emails. Be entirely free from work at least one day in seven. Review your calendar and task list before checking emails in the morning; it will improve your perspective. Turn off the phone and work on your most important project for an hour before the office gets too hectic. Every time you assert your mastery over technology, your brain experiences more control and less chaos.
Honor Your Inner World
Take time regularly to tune in to your inner world and clear up loose ends there. Meditation and exercise are healthy, rejuvenating portals to that process. Forgive what you can, remembering that forgiveness does not mean you condone or will forget what happened. Use your frustration with others as insight into what you dislike in yourself and address your own flaws. Express your emotions openly: laugh, cry, sing, talk with people you trust, write down what you think and feel, dance, draw, whatever. Emotions pass through us like water in a stream. It’s only when we build dams inside that we get stuck and our thoughts get jumbled.
You really can clear the clutter in your mind with small steps. Implement one of the ideas suggested here and you will experience a change for the better. Then implement another. Before you know it, you’ll be clear-headed, energized and relieved. And you don’t have to buy bins or shelves to do it!