I like to begin my workday with a clean desk. Part of my process forsetting my intention to get down to work is to remove everything except for the one thing I am focusing on. Clutter is just a representation of unfinished tasks for me, and it causes me to stress out quite honestly.
In fact, a study was done by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Center on Everyday Lives linking excessive clutter to both elevated stress and even depression. I found that interesting because what I wanted to talk about today was not just physical clutter, but also the mental clutter that can bring us down. So I wasn’t all that surprised to find that there is a link between the physical environment and our emotional state in that regard.
In my opinion, this mental clutter is actually even more detrimental than a desk stacked high with miscellaneous junk. It can come in many different forms too, but I like to define mental clutter quite simply as anything that distracts me from the things that I have defined as being truly important—either in my personal or professional life.
Clutter isn’t all bad!
Being the optimistic person that I am, I try not to look at clutter as necessarily being all bad. While it’s true that clutter can bring you down, you can also use it to continually refine and focus your game.
I choose to look at it as an early warning sign that I’m not taking care of business. What I like to call “clutter creep” is the first signal that I’m getting off task. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, distractions begin piling up, eating away at my attention.
So when my desk begins to pile up with the remnants of unfinished projects, I know that I need to step back, reprioritize to figure out what is important, and focus on that. And the same goes for mental clutter. When my mind is zooming from one worry to the next, I know that I need to take a breath, examine my thoughts, and sweep away any unproductive concerns.
I have found that doing these exercises greatly increases my mental stamina and focus. The earlier I can recognize the mounting clutter, the better I can keep from getting drained.
You might think this is as easy, but some clutter isn’t as obvious as a pile of dirty laundry or a stack of unopened mail. In some cases, we have to start setting intentions before we can truly see all of the extraneous stuff that we don’t need.
In general, I see clutter as any distraction that keeps me from being the very best version of myself. This is, in fact, one of the main reasons that I outline goals for the day. It makes it so much easier to eliminate thoughts and actions that are not contributing to my aim of living with a purpose.
3 Ways to Eliminate Clutter
Go On an Information Diet
This isn’t about just checking the inbox too frequently anymore. That’s part of it, but there are also ever-increasing demands made on our attention that aren’t even business related. A lot of us have become “news” or “social” junkies because access to this infotainment clutter has become so deeply ingrained in our lives.
The problem is that most of these “news” updates that are little more than fear porn. It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, the majority of this stuff is delusional foolishness. And the rest of it is so distracting that it’s almost not worth sifting through and find something useful.
Yet, we get sucked into it because whoever is writing the headlines really knows their stuff when it comes to click bait. Too many times, we just have to take a peek. And although for many of us eliminating social media is not an option, we can at least control our notifications and thereby remove a tremendous amount of temptation.
If you truly need to engage in social for your profession, I would suggest setting aside a specific timeframe after your productive goals have been accomplished. Another good tip for living life easier is to find a few trusted and levelheaded news sources to help you stay abreast of current events. Eliminate the demagogues that are pulling you into a negative emotional state.
Let the rest of the world worry about the imminent collapse of everything, you’re too busy actually doing things that make a difference.
Develop a Good Routine
I don’t know if this is true or not, but I have heard that Albert Einstein’s closet was filled with hanger after hanger of the exact same outfit. The claim was that he didn’t want to waste mental energy on unnecessary decisions. But whether that particular story is factual or legend, the Internet is full of anecdotes about people who have achieved great things claiming that using routines to de-clutter their lives was an important factor in their accomplishments.
Personally, I developed my routine based around some work that was done by Steve Key, a Professor of Molecular and Computational Biology at the University of Southern California. He showed that when it comes to doing cognitive work, most adults are functioning best around late morning. So everything I do is geared toward being at a high level when that time rolls around. I’ve found that setting intentions, removing the clutter and establishing a tight schedule are critical for hitting my peak productivity.
Just be sure that you don’t make everything too routine. You need to be flexible, agile and creative every day in your professional life. But it’s good to have those daily certainties in place so that you’re channeling your energies into the important aspects of your business and personal life.
Set Your Daily Goals
I talked in an earlier article about using SMARt goals to get things done. And this is probably the key aspect of how to live intentionally. You can use any goal setting method you want, but the important thing is to indeed set them. Doing this helps you prioritize what needs to be done before your day begins, and also helps you identify clutter. Because sometimes clutter creeps into our lives before we even realize that it’s there.