We all know that a cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind, right? We’ve all heard that idea and can see the common sense behind it. How can you expect to focus if you’re in an environment that is messy or chaotic?
What we sometimes don’t realise is that it isn’t just our physical space that can be cluttered.
In fact, in this age of home help where many of us have a cleaning service helping us manage our home (1 – hi Sue! ; 2 – with both parents working, we need this!), it isn’t the physical space that is cluttered as much as the mental space.
And a cluttered mind is just as destructive as a cluttered room.
More so, in fact, because we can escape a cluttered room by simply moving rooms! A cluttered mind? That needs a bit more work.
Let’s play a game.
Take five minutes and write down everything that’s racing around your mind right now. Things you need to remember, or do, or think about. Just make a big ol’ list. Some of this will (hopefully) be written down already on your day’s to do list, but chances are that many of these things are being remembered nowhere other than in your head.
Now, I don’t know about your memory, but I do know that mine shouldn’t be trusted with being the only storer of important information!
Okay, so you have your list?
Here’s a snapshot of mine:
- I need to walk into work because of car issues so I have to be mindful of the extra time needed to get into the office
- I haven’t scheduled any social media yet for the week
- I need to sand down the edge of my new desk – or at least ask Steve to
- I need to check the presents I’ve bought for my friend’s birthday and check they’ve all arrived
- When should the dog have lunch?
- Laundry basket is full despite doing 3 loads this weekend – how did that happen?
- I need to make my daughter a dentist appointment
- How to word an announcement I’ll be dealing with soon
- What to make with the chicken that’s defrosting and what will I eat for dinner (since I’m vegetarian so won’t eat the chicken)
- Should I arrange a viewing for that house?
- Need to take the novel I just read into work to pass along to my sister
These are the first few things that came to mind for me, and they give a really clear snapshot of all of the different areas of life I’m juggling.
I also have a pile of books I want to read, three courses I haven’t worked through, and three films I want to see at the cinema this week.
My mind is cluttered!
Chances are, your mind is too.
And the problem with a cluttered mind is that when you sit down to do your focused work – like writing new words – your mind is still whirring with all of these thoughts. It whispers that you should probably just take two minutes and call the dentist now; or practice the announcement quickly, or look for chicken recipes online.
No, you tell that voice. Or perhaps you give in to it. We all do sometimes.
Ideally, though, you tell the voice no and continue on with your focused work.
But the distraction has just cost you around 25 minutes. That’s how long it takes your mind to get back to the same level of focus as it had before the interruption. Isn’t that scary? I know for me, and probably you too, there isn’t 25 minutes to spend getting back into focus. The time I carve out for each part of my life is needed, every moment of it.
So how do we avoid this clutter?
One way is to get everything out of our heads and onto paper. Even if your memory is better than mine. Write everything down.
Whenever I’m working, I have my diary open by my side so I can write things down as I remember them.
The dentist, for example? My daughter had been referred to a specialist dentist clinic because of a problem tooth. Fortunately, that tooth came out on its own and so she can now return to her regular dentist. She was discharged from the specialist service exactly one month ago, and ever since then I’ve had the task to schedule an appointment with the regular dentist wading around in my head. Except, I haven’t. I was told to do it, I didn’t write it down, and I promptly forgot all about it, until yesterday when we drove past her regular dentist.
It went straight on the to do list when I remembered it.
This happens all the time. Random thoughts and tasks pop up in our minds at all times and places, but most of them don’t need to be actioned then and there. They just need to be captured and scheduled.
And of course you’ll find that resistance has a role to play in this. When you’re fighting to get new words out and finding it hard going, your head will suddenly remember all of the text messages you need to send, all of the presents you need to buy, the dinner you need to arrange and the holiday you need to book.
Write them down.
Capture the thought, then let it go.
This process is literally taking the clutter out of your head. It’s a clean up service for your brain.
If you’re writing an action scene and suddenly have a wave of guilt because you still haven’t finished that online class, write it down. You can write it into your diary, but even that will probably take too long because you’ll have to consider how much time it will require and when you can fit it in.
Instead, I advise having a blank sheet of paper where you write everything down as it occurs to you.
- Research 1920s fashion
- Book restaurant
- Email cover designer
- Buy new school blouse
Add, then move on.
Do this for a few weeks and see how it impacts your productivity and your ability to focus. And remember, the more you can remove from your brain, the more capacity it has to focus on your deep work.