Mental clutter – the struggle is REAL! I swear by these 4 tried & true strategies for decluttering your brain to boost productivity, decrease stress and improve your mental clarity.
It’s cloudy Monday morning during mid-December, which means I’m scrambling to dig out from a crazy weekend of multiple out-of-town swim meets, as well as finishing all of the last-minute holiday-related tasks. Oh, let’s not forget tying up all of those loose ends at work before I step away for a much-needed break.
The level of hustle and bustle definitely gets kicked up a notch for this month for most of us. When this happens, I tend to cling on for dear life to my tried and true methods for minimizing mental clutter. This helps me to keep my sanity in check, while making sure nothing slips through the cracks.
A clutter-free mind is beneficial in so many ways. Reducing mental clutter results in:
- decreased stress
- increased productivity
- improved mental clarity.
Since mental clutter is such a universal challenge (especially in 2020), I thought it might be helpful to share the strategies I use to declutter my brain.
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4 Ways to Banish Mental Clutter
Mental Clutter Buster #1: Create a Master Task List (AKA Brain Dump)
At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much perfected the art of list-making. For me, it’s the number one way to lessen the anxiety that I feel when my plate begins to overflow with tasks.
I used a ton of task management tools over the years, both paper and electronic solutions. I discovered Trello a few years ago and started to use it to manage work-related tasks. I ended up loving it so much that I’ve since adopted it for managing all my personal To-Dos as well.
This Trello board is where all of my personal tasks get recorded during a brain dump session (which happens on a weekly basis…sometimes more frequently if I’m juggling a ton of things). It’s my master To-Do list for everything that I want to accomplish.
As you can see in the screenshot, I organize my tasks into meaningful categories that work for my brain.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I pull up my Trello board and conduct a brain dump, making sure to record each and every task that is floating around in my head.
As productivity guru David Allen says,
Your Mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
No matter how busy my weekend is, I always end it by creating a weekly paper To-Do list, pulling information from my Master To-Do List on Trello and my Google Calendar. This piece of paper becomes the primary planning blueprint for the upcoming week.
Mental Clutter Buster #2: Create a System to Capture Ideas and General Information
In keeping with the mantra of moving things out of your head, it’s so important to designate one central place that you will use to capture ideas and general information. It can be a simple paper solution like a notebook or a digital tool.
I’ve already written about how I use Evernote for managing work-related information and resources. It’s also the main storage area for my paperless life.
What I didn’t mention is that I also use it to manage many aspects of my personal life.
It comes in so handy for a place to store interesting articles I stumble upon online that I’d like to reference at a later point (here’s a great summary of all the ways you can use Evernote to organize your personal life).
Take a moment to decide what system is best for you when it comes to capturing this type of information and getting it out of your head to free up your brain space.
Mental Clutter Buster #3: Identify Your Reflective Place
We all have a favorite place where we can attempt to sort out our jumbled thoughts.
I have a friend who always goes for hikes in the woods to sort out her thoughts. For me, it’s in the shower!
I’m not sure why, but I tend to do my best thinking, come up with great ideas, and work out vexing problems during shower time. Perhaps it’s a consequence of that soothing hot water…OR perhaps it’s because the shower is the one place that I can go without interruption for any length of time in my home!
Have something nearby to capture those sparks of genius when you exit the shower, some ideas include:
- a whiteboard
- your phone (use the Notes app)
- paper and pen
Mental Clutter Buster #4: Keep on Top of Your Email Inbox
Although I’m not an Inbox Zero purist, I do strive to keep a minimal number of emails in my Inbox. Having a zillion messages smack me in the face when I open my email really freaks me out. It can get especially crazy with all of the holiday advertising that retailers bombard us with this time of year.
As a result, I’m hyper-vigilant about managing email on a regular (daily) basis. A tool that I’ve found to be incredibly useful for managing email is Unroll.me. This free service organizes your emails to create a single daily summary email. It also enables you to easily unsubscribe from emails that you no longer wish to receive.
If you worked through the Paper Declutter Challenge, you’re now familiar with the distinction between action and reference papers. I make the same distinction with email messages.
My rule is to only keep action emails in my Inbox. The reference emails that I decide to keep are either filed within an appropriate email folder or are sent to Evernote for storage (you can learn more about email organization here).
There you have it. Those are my BIG 4 ways to keep mental clutter at bay. I’m excited to hear about the ways that YOU keep the mental clutter in check, especially during the holiday season…please share my friends!
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