Clearing Clutter

It’s that time of year, when folks decide they are going to “get organized”.  I’ll admit it:  I used to be one of those folks.  I’m guilty of laying something down and forgetting where I put it.  Important things, like my keys, bluetooth, and phone have to have a “home” or I will end up searching for them.  You will notice, however, that getting organized is not on my list of resolutions for 2011.  Though I may have some scatterings of things, overall, my physical stuff is in order.  Of course, JB may disagree with that statement on occasion.  But trust me, it’s better than it was in my pack-rat years.

I did a huge shedding of physical stuff in the last couple of months.  I reduced a 2000 square foot home down to a 5×5 storage unit, a room at my childhood home and what would fit in the trunk and backseat of my Mazda.  I sold some things, gave away some things, and donated to charity more.  I looked at items in this manner: do I love it enough to pay to store it and/or move it 1000 miles?  Funny how it makes things clearer – and incredible the sheer psychic weight of stuff.

There is another area of clutter, though, that has been on my mind today:  brain clutter.  Some days, we have so many thoughts running through our heads that if they were trains, they would be colliding and derailing all over the place.  Trying to wade through the myriad of thoughts and  tasks can become overwhelming.  Important tasks are forgotten.  Tasks which really aren’t important, yet are time consuming, take up our time.  Long term desires and goals are ignored because we never “have the time” to put them in our schedules.

Getting settled into a new routine has been slow going, and today I realized that though I had cleared much of my physical clutter, my brain clutter was interfering with my productivity.  You know: living in my head and thoughts and failing to live in the moment.  And really, failing to make progress on a couple of projects I have on the slate for 2011.  So, I went back to tried and true solution for me:  a stack of 3×5 cards, a pen and an egg timer.  And I did a 5-minute brain dump.

I got the term from author David Allen.  But I have altered his process to meet my needs and brain, combining in some teachings from Stephen Covey as well as Martha Beck. Clearing the brain clutter allows me to get refocused and since it’s such a help to me, I thought I’d share with those of you who may be a bit challenged by colliding thoughts and overwhelming to-do lists.

Turn off your phone and email so you aren’t interrupted.  Trust me, that text can be returned in five minutes and no one will perish if an email isn’t immediately read.  Set the timer for 5 minutes and write down every thought that comes in your head.  Just put one thought per index card and keep trucking along.  Don’t try to analyze the thoughts, just write.  Sometimes, I end up with partial errand  to run, blog post ideas, and people who are on my mind.  For some reason, today eggs came out.  I didn’t analyze why at the moment, I just wrote.  WRITE and clear your thoughts until the timer goes off OR your mind goes blank.  When you are done, walk away.  Return your email.  Get a drink of water.  Walk outside and get the mail.

Now.  Go back to your cards and organize them into areas.   I usually end up with a stack of errands, a stack of business to dos, a stack of personal correspondence, and some randomness.

Sometimes, you have to take a real hard look at your cards and realize that many of the things occupying your brain fall into what Covey would call Quadrant 3 (Urgent, but not Important) and  Quadrant 4 (Not Urgent, Not Important).  Know what you do with those?  The brain clutter that simply consumes your time and brings no real value to your life? Choose this time decide to delete them from your life and take pleasure in  throwing away those cards, embracing the symbolism of deleting it from your life.

Rinse often, and repeat.  Clutter grows amazingly quick sometimes.  You will find your days are more productive and you are able to focus on what really matters.  Life’s too short to waste precious time doing stuff that doesn’t bring value to your life.

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One Response to Clearing Clutter

  1. Brigita January 6, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    I’m a total pack-rat. Amazingly, I still find everything I need even though my office looks like a bomb just exploded in it. The second I start tidying things up, I get completely lost. Unfortunately, my mind works pretty much the same way. It’s always cluttered, but I need the mess to have it working at full speed. I’ll try the exercise you propose, though, just to see what effect it has on me. 🙂

    Great post.

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