How to Deal with Brain Clutter

“Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas, toxic relationships and bad habits. Clutter is anything that does not support your better self.”
Eleanor Brownn

According to the quote by Eleanor Brownn, clutter can appear in many different forms. When we’re distracted by brain clutter, it can affect our productivity which can in turn affect our business goals and personal goals for life balance.  Have you ever experience any of the following road blocks holding you back when you’re trying to move forward?

Physical Clutter: Being surrounded by piles of paper, stacks of files and old paperwork to process can be distracting and make it hard to focus on the tasks you have in front of you. If you’re forced to search for files, documents, supplies and money you have misplaced, that comes as double whammy by wasting time and feeling stress while searching.

The solution is to invest the time, money and energy that it takes to get rid of the old stuff, keep the current stuff, save the resources and reference materials and create clearly labeled systems. It may take a lot of effort up front, but you will reap the rewards of being in control and working productively for a long time to come.

Old Ideas:  Being creative and having a lot of ideas for your business is always a good thing. But, if you’re holding on to thoughts and projects that didn’t pan out, you could be holding yourself back from exploring new ideas. Don’t feel guilty about letting something go that sounded good at one point or something that you tried that didn’t work out. If you’re in business long enough, hopefully you’ll get used to some strategies and projects sticking and working out as well as letting go of well-intentioned plans that didn’t work out. That’s part of growing!

Toxic Relationships: Relationships aren’t perfect and we all experience ups and downs in both our personal and professional lives. If you have an issue with someone and you’re feeling stressed, worried, anxious or angry, a great deal of your focus and energy may go toward mulling over conversations and feelings. If our focus is stuck here, it can hold you back from being focused on your work and moving forward in business.

You may also experience situations where people take too much of your time and energy with their issues and needs. This can create the perfect storm of productivity loss by causing our priorities to take a back seat while we focus on someone else’s. If it becomes a problem on a regular basis, you may be forced to evaluate the relationship to end it, distance yourself, be direct about your own needs and create boundaries.

Bad Habits:  We may have fallen into habits, like multitasking, that seemed to make sense when we first started doing them. When we’re rushed, trying to do more than one thing at a time sounds good. But we all know there’s been a lot of research that proves this isn’t an effective way to work and really isn’t even a real thing. We can’t actually do two tasks at the same time, but we still try. Trying to do too much at one time can lead to mistakes and forcing you to redo tasks which will take even more of our time.

Another common bad habit is focusing on low value activities to avoid work we don’t want to do. It’s natural to want to find tasks to do that seem like more fun when we’re faced with work that we don’t know how to do or we don’t like to do it. These activities may come in the form of engaging on social media, texting or talking on the phone. But this is really just a tactic to postpone the inevitable, eventually you still have to do the work.

I’ve found this is a natural human condition, so we just have to keep working at getting over this bad habit as it comes up. Strengthen your good habits to lean into them when things get difficult and never stop learning about good habits by reading books and listening to experts speak on this topic online or in person.

Let’s look for the positive and look at four solutions to help you deal with brain clutter so you can avoid allowing it to distract you. All four solutions happen to be pretty visual in nature.

Keep a notepad close by: If you’re in the middle of working on something and you have an idea pop into your head or you remember something you’re supposed to do, instead of going down a rabbit hole and doing it, just jot it down on paper. This will allow your brain to relax knowing nothing will be forgotten and you can come back to it later.

If something comes up and you realize it’s urgent or an emergency, then you may actually have to drop what you’re doing and take care of something that is now a higher priority. The more efficiently you learn to work, you will probably experience less of these urgent issues popping up if you foresee them and take care of them along the way.

Make sure you’re only using one notepad for ideas and to do’s so you don’t have scraps of paper and Sticky notes all over your office causing visual clutter.

Create a system for capturing ideas for future projects:  Many business professionals are pretty creative and find that new ideas for anything from marketing to collaborations pop into their heads. They can be so exciting that we may want to stop what we’re doing right then and there to start formulating a plan. But we can’t let future ideas and projects take precedence over what we have in front of us.

When I have an idea for something I want to work on I record it in a yearly planner. I can plug it in to work on it as early as later that day, the next day or the next week. The point is I keep working on what I have in front of myself first. Use a dependable system that works for you from a legal pad to an app on your phone.

Untangle the ideas in your brain: If you have a lot of ideas jumbled up in your brain bouncing off of each other, learn how to mind map to get them out of your head and make it easier to record and separate the ideas.

When I write an article or column, I put a big circle in the middle of a piece of paper and write the topic in the middle of the circle. Then I make spokes off of the circle and write ideas for the content on the spokes along with details to add to the article.

Getting out of your head and creating some semblance of order can put your mind at ease once again and also make it easier for you to determine how to move forward on your ideas.

Create a dump list: Simply get ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper as a brain dump. Just let it all flow out and onto the paper without a lot of thought. Once you see the list on the paper in front of you, you can then analyze each item to prioritize, delegate tasks or even cross things off of the list.

Create systems that you can depend on so brain clutter can be tamed and you have a constructive way to deal with the creative ideas that come to you when you least expect them.

Monika Kristofferson is a professional organizer, productivity consultant, author and founder of Efficient Organization in Lake Stevens. Reach her at 425-220-8905. (Courtesy of my efficiency column in the Everett Herald Business Journal).

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