Do you ever feel like you just can’t get caught up on your to-do list? Or like you are being pulled in so many directions at once that you can’t keep straight what you need to get done next? Do you ever lie awake at bedtime with your head spinning over all of the things you’ve got to do the next day?
When all of those little (and not-so-little) things we’ve got to keep straight – projects, appointments, homekeeping, kids school/activities, work, deadlines, volunteer meetings, follow-up phone calls, email, facebook, Instagram – begin to swirl around in your head, that is what I call mental clutter. It is like having a million sticky notes all over your desk but instead it is in your brain.
If this sounds like you, I have 7 tips that I hope will help tame your mental clutter. I’m not going to tell you to cut back on your commitments, to start telling people “no”, and to start taking time for yourself. Those are all GREAT things to do and wonderful advice. But those things take time. I’m going to give you some tips that you can start doing right now, or at least in the next couple of days.
These are the things I do, some of them more consistently than others. I find that when I do these things, I fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. I also feel that I am more productive because I can actually focus on the task at hand rather than going through the motions while my mind is 10 steps ahead thinking about what else I’ve got to do. Finally, I feel that I am just more pleasant to be around – especially for my kids. When my head is not filled with those mental sticky notes, I can be more present while I am with my girls. I can sit on the floor and play with dolls or blocks or cars and not be completely distracted, thinking about all of the things I need to get done. That alone is reason enough to do something about mental clutter!!
Rethink how you use social media.
Social media can be a huge time suck. I know I’ve easily spent an hour on Pinterest without even realizing. It! I have found that cleaning up my personal feeds on Facebook and Pinterest makes a huge difference. I do not connect with anyone I do not truly want to keep in touch with. Sometimes it is hard because it means declining a friend request or deciding not to follow some brand that is doing a super-awesome give-away. But trust me, all of that just adds to mental clutter!
Do a daily “mental dump”.
When my head is spinning at bedtime, I take out a notebook and just write. I don’t give any thought to what I am writing or trying to make it coherent or make any sense. Sometimes lists or diagrams come out of it, but many times it is just strings of words. I just write my thoughts, and I keep writing until I think I’ve written everything I have on my mind. Something about getting it down on paper calms my mind. Even if you’ve never been one to keep a journal, I urge you to try this at least a couple of times. It really works!
Organize with binders.
I have a shelf full of binders. I use them for planning and organizing a variety of things. As a couple of examples, I have binders for grocery and meal planning, cleaning and home maintenance, and one I use as a fitness planner. I like binders because I can sit down and spread out at the breakfast table with my binders and plan the next week’s meals, workouts, and cleaning/maintenance. This helps me stay organized, which for me means less mental clutter.
I’ve recently discovered the amazing tool that is OneNote. I use OneNote to keep notes for projects and work. I love that it is organized just like a binder (see previous tip) – you have a notebook with tabs and each tab can have multiple pages with notes, links, pictures, diagrams, tables, lists, and much more. Many others use Evernote and enjoy it, but I have not tried that option. There are so many other apps you can use to organize your life, from meal planning, couponing, calendar syncing, note-taking, you name it!
Use an idea/thoughts notebook.
This is something I keep in my purse so that I can quickly write down a thought or idea. So when I get home from picking up the girls from preschool, a quick trip to the grocery store, and swinging by the bank, I can pull out my notebook and see my note about a fundraiser idea I had after talking to Little Miss S’s teacher and I can email her with my thoughts. This could be done with OneNote (or Evernote, or a similar app) but there is just something about writing things down by hand that works better for me.
I used to just write out your typical to-do list. Just a running list of things I needed to do, and when something new needed to be added it went at the bottom. When that list got to be too long and had many items completed, I would start a new list. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t reflect the time you have in which to complete the items on your to-do list.
My new system is to write my to-do items in a daily schedule. I use a vertical schedule for each day, starting at 7:00am and I write in what I need to do in blocks of time. For example, if I am going to spend an hour cleaning, I’ll write in “Clean Downstairs” with a checkbox next to it at the appropriate time. Then further down, I might write “Grade Papers” and “Upload Week 5 Assignments” with checkboxes next to the 2:00pm time so that I know what I need to accomplish at that time. Then I write at the bottom of my schedule the top 3 things to complete that day at the bottom of my schedule. I’ve begun using a Plum Paper Planner, which is designed specifically for this and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.
Declutter and donate your stuff.
This can be so tough to do. We humans just love our stuff. Many times it is not even that we actually like the things we are attached to, it is an emotional attachment to the memories the material things invoke or the people who gave us those special items we just cannot part with. But if you can muster up the strength to really purge, it will bring you a great relief.
My tip is, if you don’t need the money badly, do not try to sell your stuff. I know, I know, selling your stuff is a nice way to help supplement your household income. That is why I say, if you don’t truly need the money, don’t sell it. Donate your stuff. Selling your stuff takes time and effort. You’ve got to keep track of where you’ve got your stuff listed if you are selling online and you’ve got to keep the stuff around while you are waiting for it to sell. My advice is to donate. Give some thought to how much another person may need you stuff. Maybe it is truly material and not something very useful, like a figurine or a wall hanging. It may bring someone joy in a way that it could not do for you. Maybe a young woman just getting on her feet is buying items at a thrift store to decorate the first place she could call her own and that little figurine will always be a reminder of when she was just starting out.
Mental clutter can really drain you of energy and make it difficult to find the simple joys in each day. It can bring about feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Mental clutter can damage your personal relationships, even with the people who mean most to you. This is a form of stress and stress has real and serious health risks. The good news is that there are solutions, some easier than others. Taming mental clutter can be tough, but I hope at least a couple of these tips help you calm the swirl.
These are far from the only ways to tame mental clutter. What do you do that I didn’t list here? I’ve heard that meditation is great for this, but have never gotten the hang of it. Please share your tips in the comments below!