Do you ever feel like you have too much going on?
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of action items on your to-do list?
Are appointments, meetings, or due dates slipping through the cracks?
We all drop the ball from time to time. But in my experience, a cluttered mind is largely self-inflicted, and it often stems from laziness, shiny object syndrome, or even hyper-ambition.
So, how can you declutter your mind and cultivate super focus once more?
Here are the main categories to explore.
Time-tested wisdom says if your desk is a mess, your mind is a mess too. This is true to the extent that unfinished things will eat away at psychic energy that could be better allocated and utilized.
Whenever I notice garbage, bottles, and cans piling up in my car, I know that my mind is starting to become more encumbered too. It alerts me to the fact that I’m not making my car (and organization) a priority.
Here are several other areas that should be addressed when considering your physical world:
- Is your house a mess? Are dishes piling up? Do you have boxes of stuff sitting in your garage you haven’t touched in years? Spend a weekend cleaning up, deciding what to keep, sell, give away, or throw away.
- Is your car a mess? Spend a few hours this weekend cleaning, sorting, and organizing it.
- Do you have clothes you don’t like or don’t wear? Sell or donate excess clothing. Only keep in your closet what you wear and reduce decision fatigue. Make it a habit to invest in fewer items of high-quality clothing.
- Begin to eliminate from your life, home, and environment what isn’t 100% essential to you and your work.
- Exercise, eat well, supplement, cleanse, meditate, sleep. Improve your health and well-being. I’m not a health practitioner. Seek professional advice whenever and wherever applicable.
Most people’s emotional life resembles that of a Six Flags rollercoaster ride rather than that of the flat, dry, windy prairies of Southern Alberta, Canada.
The ideal is to be happy as much of the time as you possibly can. People can go through great hardships and still be happy, so it’s not impossible. It’s a matter of conditioning yourself to remain calm in every circumstance.
As you do all the things mentioned in this guide, you will become considerably happier too.
Here are some other areas to poke and prod in the domain of emotional well-being:
- Do you frequently find yourself thinking about the past? Process unhelpful memories and change them if necessary (the process for transforming memories is documented in Frederick E. Dodson’s Parallel Universes of Self). We don’t remember most things the way they happened, so it can’t hurt to make up something new.
- See a counselor or psychologist. Talk to a friend. Unload emotional baggage and air skeletons in the closet.
- Limit your exposure to people who always complain, gossip, or talk negatively. You don’t need to cut them out. But give them less time than you have been and try to bring the conversations around to something positive when you do talk to them.
- Read positive books that lift your spirits, like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist or Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention.
- In extreme situations, a change of environment may be necessary (toxic roommates, bad landlords, horrible bosses, sewage leaks in your bedroom, etc.). Don’t rule out moving or traveling for a while.
Incompletes clutter up the mind. That’s why one of the biggest focuses in my life for the next year is going to be finishing projects.
I have numerous books, sales funnels, musical projects, blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos waiting to be completed, and this is where I will be putting most of my attention.
Whenever I find myself dreaming up a new project idea, my new habit is going to be turning to my “to finish” list and picking something from there to work on.
How else can you optimize your work? Try the following:
- Finish projects, either by doing the work necessary to complete them or by declaring them complete and moving on. If it helps to tear up a manuscript, burn a book, or delete from your hard drive a website design you no longer plan to work on, do it.
- Plan how you will be spending your time each week (timebox your calendar), and don’t worry when things don’t go perfectly. Planning is essential, but plans are worthless.
- If you feel like you’ve got a lot of things to do, write everything down on a whiteboard so you can physically see what there is to do and how you might go about prioritizing it.
- Always deliver on time. And if you can’t, or you’re not going to, communicate with your superiors, clients, or collaborators the moment you know you’re not going to be doing what you said you were going to be doing.
- Be prompt in your response. Triage quickly whether you plan to respond to calls, texts, voicemails, and emails. Open every email knowing you will delete or archive it after it has been processed.
- Declutter your computer’s desktop, Downloads folder, recycle bin, etc. Remove programs you don’t use, create backups, scan your machine for viruses and malware, defragment your hard drive, etc. If your machine is especially slow, do a factory reset, bring it to a technician, or both.
Don’t you find that “subscription bloat” can easily get out of hand?
Whenever I feel like reallocating my spending, I will make a list of expenses and identify the subscriptions that I can safely eliminate now (if I need it later, I can always resubscribe).
Consider streaming services, magazines, storage lockers, social media automation tools, membership dues, and so forth. There’s no sense in holding onto something you aren’t using now, and cutting expenses will free up a lot of energy.
Sure, there are probably some subscriptions you want to keep. But if you want to declutter your mind, less is more.
You can use these prompts to help simplify your financial life:
- Are your mortgage payments costing you an arm and a leg? Consider downgrading your lifestyle. Don’t worry – it will be temporary.
- Are your car payments costing a pretty penny? Sell your car and get a 10-year-old beater instead.
- Are you paying yourself first by locking away 10% of your income (somewhere you can’t easily touch) each month? Automate contributions to an investment account of your choice and never think about it again (I’m not a financial advisor but I think lifecycle funds are the ideal low-maintenance solution for most).
- Automate as much of your banking as you possibly can, including bill payments.
- Make more money. It gives you more freedom and more options. It also makes it possible for you to help more people.
I’m a big believer in self-education but being addicted to personal development can have its costs. For example, you could go into debt buying every book, course, seminar, and pump-up session delivered halfway across the world.
And there is almost certainly a mental cost to investing in so many programs without ever finishing any of them. Remember what I said about incompletes? They clutter up the mind.
Here are some things you should be thinking about as you look to optimize your self-education:
- How many books are you reading right now? If your answer isn’t “one,” your mind space is being taken up by the books you haven’t finished reading yet. Read one book at a time and don’t rush through it. Instead, believe that whatever you need to learn is in the sentence or book you’re reading right now (the answer you need is in the book you read).
- How many courses have you purchased that you haven’t completed or haven’t even touched? Decide now whether to finish them or leave them to simmer as shelfware. It’s okay to have a “later/someday” file.
- Choose an area to focus on. Trying to learn everything will make you a Jack or Jill of all trades. Learning specific things will make you a specialist, and specialists are highly valued.
- Learn from one coach at a time.
- Listen to Gary Keller’s The One Thing on repeat in your car for the next year and apply what you learn.
- Place less emphasis on acquiring knowledge and more emphasis on application. If you just came from an amazing industry conference, spend the next few weeks actioning what you learned and set aside anything that could distract you from applying the new tactics, techniques, and technologies you discovered.
Declutter Your Mind, Final Thoughts
Are there other categories to explore in decluttering your mind? Depending on your goals, profession, specific life circumstances, and so on, there almost certainly will be.
But if you keep in mind that incompletes are responsible for sapping your mental power and energy, and effort to tie up loose ends, you’ll be well on your way to decluttering your mind and cultivating super focus.
Also, know that decluttering your mind probably won’t be a “one-and-done” process, so be prepared to free up your energies again, from time to time.