I’ve referred to clearing the clutter from time to time in various posts. While I’ve been working on it, I am nowhere close to the target. Yes, I am inching towards those goals, but it is taking far longer than I anticipated.
In the meantime, I’ve realized that not only am I dealing with physical clutter—I am also piling on the mental clutter.
It is easier to spot physical clutter piling up. All I have to do is look around to assess my problem. With mental clutter, it is tougher. I’ve tried blaming my hectic schedule and stress. But in my heart, I just know I’ve been overthinking stuff and my brain is overloaded. And of course, I am super-stressed that I have not done as much as I intended to about the physical clutter—typical Zeigarnik effect.
What do I do?
Why, even today’s post, which I had meant to schedule last night—didn’t happen. I just couldn’t get around to writing it yesterday. A big high-five to those who write and schedule days before! I had planned a couple of other topics, but… eh!
I thought—first things first!
Let’s clear that mental clutter and put it on a solid diet!
Because really, I need a little Zen right now. Nothing makes me Zen-ner than setting my timer and writing. I always find that it helps me organize my thoughts better, reframe my worries, and has me smiling—or usually grinning—again.
The problem with mental—and emotional—clutter is that it holds us back from what we are capable of doing. It is natural to recycle incidents, memories, people, places—all of which drain our energy and stop us from being happy. If we don’t do anything about it, we develop an unhealthy pattern. We become stuck in that lousy place in our minds and mess up a perfectly wonderful present and future.
So, say no to mental clutter and take steps.
Here’s the sequence that works for me—or at least takes the edge off when I feel overwhelmed.
The brain dump
When something bothers me to the point where it interferes with my routine and I can’t function—I am talking about delaying making dinner and sometimes, even coffee (GASP!), I just sit down, set the timer, and literally vomit my thoughts out on paper. Now the trick here is, NO thinking allowed. Just write. Pour it all out. Purge. No pausing to wonder how you are going to get it all done or when. About fifteen minutes ought to do it. To quote my Mom,
“Diary writing is far more than a way of exorcising one’s unhappiness. The effect is extraordinary. Distanced on paper, troubles shrink to their true size. You can regard them objectively and see how temporary they are”….Devi, my Mother
I know she says diary writing but I am sure she will assure you that it applies to all personal journaling. I generally make a list when I do a brain dump—and you’ll understand why when you see the next step. Not only does it bring clarity but also helps figure out the most important stuff: priorities. One of my favorite words.
Make a priority list
See? This is my organizational magic saber. My mental clutter has no chance of survival once I have that saber. So what IS it? Okay, it is a metaphor. In reality, it is a priority list extracted from that brain dump. A list of just 5 things that absolutely MUST be accomplished on a given day. Thing is, even when I think “I’ve done nothing today,” I am not even referring to the following:
- Making the bed
- Making the coffee
- Cutting vegetables
- Cooking lunch, packing boxes
- Clearing up
- Doing the dishes
- Hanging out clothes to dry, folding dry clothes, and putting them away
- Some dusting/sweeping/mopping
- Answering the phone/doorbells
- Straightening up the living room/study/other places
…and so on and so forth.
Do you see what I mean? Every little thing takes time. And occupies a good chunk of the day. No wonder all that mental clutter seems overwhelming. Picking just 5 things makes sense and is more realistic. Doable. Easier to focus on. And feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed those things.
So pick those 5 things. Or even 3 is okay. Ignore everything else on the to-do list.
I found that my biggest issue was keeping track of all that stuff I have to do. This is why I maintain lists. To remember. I am supposed to have a good memory, but even so, manage to forget things. And that is so aggravating. To remember important dates, I have two desk calendars. One for work and one for home. Google Calendar is great but I find it easier to work with a physical calendar. To store stuff I want to read, links, etc. I use OneNote on my computer and love it. Any ideas, notes, references, drafts go into it, and the best part? It is searchable.
Pause and take stock
So great to be busy but always being on the run without pausing to review only makes things worse. Set aside some time to take stock of how you are using your time. For me, this is usually when I have my morning coffee and before I go to bed, when I make my priority list for the next day—those absolutely must-do things. This reflection helps to identify why I am overwhelmed and allows me to figure out what I could have done to manage things better. Looking back helps me move forward more confidently.
You gotta move it, move it, move it
Nothing shakes things up better than physical activity. Whatever else you compromise on, never compromise on exercise. It calms and clears your mind and puts things in perspective. And of course, it is good for your health. In fact, on days when my son is overwhelmed with classes and assignments and a bunch of other stuff, I tell him to go for a brisk walk to clear his mind and just pick three things to do and do them! For me, the following activities work wonders: walking, housework, washing clothes, cleaning out a shelf, and so on. Yes, I love housework. The cheapest way to keep fit. Plus win-win.
Clearing clutter is all about getting rid of the unnecessary to help ourselves focus on the things that really matter.
And that’s how I get rid of my mental clutter.
What do you do?