We’ve all been there. An important deadline looms, yet no matter how hard we try, we can’t stop thinking about something else. Perhaps it’s an ongoing conflict, an unresolved issue, or something we need to remember to do later on. Whatever the case, having too much mental clutter can prevent us focusing on important tasks in the present.
Here are five quick tips you can use as a quick fix to de-clutter your mind and get on with your day.
Even a few minutes of silent meditation can be enough to clear your mind of excess clutter, help you feel more grounded, and improve your focus. For a simple meditation, set a timer for five minutes, focus your eyes a few feet in front of you and shift your focus to your breathing. Whenever you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts, don’t worry. Just bring your awareness back to your breathing as soon as you become aware that your mind is wandering.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is a great way to get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper, especially if you’re getting distracted by thoughts about a particular person, situation or event.
This kind of journaling is easy in theory, but in practise it can feel alien at first and it can take a few tries to get used to it. To make the most out of stream-of-consciousness journaling, take a blank page (or blank screen) and simply write down whatever comes into your head. All thoughts go on paper, even “I don’t know what to write”.
When we journal using stream-of-consciousness, it’s easy to slip into self-censorship and judgements about what we’re writing. For this kind of journaling to be effective, try to suspend any thoughts about what you should or shouldn’t be writing, the quality of your spelling and grammar, or whether what you’re writing even makes sense. Those things don’t matter; the most important thing is that you have a place to channel your thoughts, whatever they might be.
3. Talk about it
Talking to others about the topics that are cluttering your mind has two main benefits: it can help you feel validated and heard, and it can also provide you with a different perspective. Often, just having someone listen to and understand what’s on your mind helps relieve some of the urgency and intensity of the thoughts. Equally, hearing someone else’s thoughts and perspectives about what’s on your mind can leave you with new insights and resolution.
4. Do a core dump
If you’re not preoccupied with one topic in particular, but are struggling to stay focused in light of an overwhelming to-do list, brainstorming or carrying out a core dump could be the mental de-cluttering method for you.
A ‘core dump’ is a term devised by David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, which is one of the most popular productivity systems in the world. When you carry out a core dump, you write down everything you can think of that requires you to do or remember something, and then organise these items into individual tasks and projects. The more information you store in your head, the more cluttered your thoughts will feel. Transferring these to-do items from your head onto paper or screen frees up valuable space in your mind so you can focus on other things.
5. Change your scene
Changing your scene might sound too simple to be effective, but it really works. When we perform the same activities in the same place over and over again (for example, writing reports in our office), we can get stuck in mental ruts that are associated with that particular activity and place. Moving the activity to a different location can help us look at it with fresh eyes and a new focus, relieving the mental boredom that might lead our mind to wander to other things.