We are living in a modern world of information overload – where the need to declutter your mind regularly is important. And, at every age and stage, our poor brains are busier than ever, bombarded by choice, saturated by social media and, at the same time, we have to remember multiple passwords, pins, appointments, endless names and faces… Plus, we are using brains that evolved from the hunter-gatherers, who may have encountered no more than 1 000 people in a lifetime, and gave 100% focus to each task.
Decluttering our minds needn’t be complicated, though…
Here’s how to declutter your mind fast:
Start active sorting
Whenever possible, reduce the burden on your brain by storing what you need to recall outside of it: preferably on paper – voice memos need playing back, while doing it digitally exposes you to a million more distractions.
Divide tasks into four categories:
- Important things that can’t wait
- Important things that can wait
- Trivial things that need to be done at some point
- Things you can do without
This frees you to focus clearly on each task at a time without other items nagging.
Embrace good enough
We all suffer from decision overload – a simple trip to the supermarket invokes dozens of decisions (to get cereal with honey or nuts, with oats or wheat, or all of the above?).
But Proceedings Of The National Academy of Sciences published a study on how our brains are configured to make a limited number of decisions per day. After that, neural fatigue sets in, our minds start to fog, and we show poorer impulse control and lack judgement.
Save your energy for the decisions that really matter – in all other cases, go straight for the “good-enough” option. That’s the one that will satisfy you and is deemed sufficient. This may not be the best option at the time – but it’s known as “satisficing”.
Practice the 50-minute rule and five-minute rule
Your mind needs at least 50 minutes to settle into its most focused state. If you have a demanding task – an exam to cram for, a strategy to plan – set at least this much time aside so you can focus.
Even if you have more time – like a morning, a day, or a week – your mind will still need a break every 90 minutes to clear, and exercise for 30 minutes, is excellent for increasing blood-flow to the brain. But don’t make the mistake of ignoring everything else… your knowledge of the mounting pile places more strain on your mind.
Each day, set aside a 30-minute slot to do the things that can be done in five minutes or less, like making that doctor’s appointment or tidying up your desk.
It’s the enemy of focus! Each time were distracted from a task by an e-mail, our 10 drops by 10 points. Each e-mail requires the brain to sift and sort and decide if this is personal or business; junk or important. And WhatsApp is even worse -the limited characters require you to doublethink what you wish to say in every message.
If you want to increase your productivity, working or studying with the TV on is also ill-advised (tell your teen!). It sends the information you’re learning to the striatum (the region of the brain used for storing new skills) When studying without the TV, it goes to the hippocampus (a region of the brain associated with long-term memory and facts).
ALSO SEE: How to work from home effectively
When using technology, stay on task. Filters can block e-mail or browsing (which will ideally help you to check e-mail just once a day, and not 50 times).
If possible, have different devices for work and play, so that you don’t drift from a work project to quickly’ browse family photos. If this isn’t possible, plug in separate pocket devices to minimise distractions – some computers’ user-modes can even change your desktop, the appearance, the files entirely…
Try designated places
The key to a less-cluttered mind is minimising the work we ask of it. Effective home storage is essential for this, as it helps us recall where items are… although, we do lose some things more often than others: keys, not cars; smartphones, not home phones.
If it’s something we use in multiple places, have duplicates where possible (scissors in the kitchen and office; tweezers in the bathroom and bedroom). Key hooks work, so does a tray for phones. Get into the habit of putting them there the moment you come through the door.
If you need to remember something, use visual reminders. Need to buy milk? Leave an empty carton by the front door. Our brains are hyper-alert to visual cues signalling change.
The most productive mind also needs exercise, sleep and holidays. The more overworked we are, the bigger the mistakes we make – working a 60-hour week instead of a 40-hour week can actually reduce productivity by up to 25%. This is why the more enlightened and booming corporations, like Microsoft and Google, offer their employees in-house gyms, games tables, massages, yoga, flexible hours and even places to nap.
If you’re your own boss, don’t feel bad about stopping work for a short walk or a daydream. It will actually boost your productivity and will help you think clearer. If you’re the one who is the boss of others, long hours and no breaks will not get the best from your staff!
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important factors for peak performance, memory, productivity and mood regulation. A good night’s sleep more than doubles the likelihood that you’ll be able to solve a problem requiring insight. Adults generally need between six and 10 hours of sleep a night.
ALSO SEE: Boost your immune system with more sleep
A good night’s sleep can make a big difference to your day. Sleep in a cool, dark room and, when possible, go to bed and wake at the same time each day (use an alarm, if necessary). Naps can also be helpful – but always keep them to under 40 minutes, and not too close to bedtime.
The young are infamous for this, but some of us never shake the habit. Studies suggest procrastination is linked to low self-confidence – we’re delaying putting our reputation on the line, pushing back the moment that we’ll be judged.
First, disconnect your sense of worth from the outcome of the task you’re avoiding (“I’m a happy, loved and successful person, whether or not this book is ever published!”).
Second, accept that you may fail and this is perfectly fine – after all, it’s part of the process. The world’s most successful people have had more “failures” behind them than most. The difference is they kept on trying, having learnt more with each setback. But, it’s a long process, not a once-off “all or nothing” approach. Motivate yourself with podcasts and motivational books when you feel uninspired.