In the digital age, we are more than ever being bombarded with information. This includes everything from the notifications and messages on our phones, to the constant stimulation that comes from the television and the web. At work, things are even worse as we’re constantly focusing on one stream of information and then the next and even when we’re on holiday we willingly subject ourselves to more noise and bright lights in the form of computer games and YouTube videos.
We’re constantly wired and this leaves us exhausted, stressed and with little energy or motivation to focus on the things that really matter to us.
Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘Information Overload’ and it’s closely related to another concept known as ‘Decision Fatigue’. Information overload is what happens when our brains simply become exhausted from concentrating on so many information streams at once and never getting to relax and focus on a single thing.
Meanwhile, decision fatigue is the result of our having to make too many decisions in a day. We have a finite number of decisions and the more we make, the less energy we have to make decisions later on. This is why we find ourselves with less motivation and energy by the end of the day – and it can even lead to poor choices, procrastination and lethargy.
The point is, that as you chase all this information and respond to all these requests, you find yourself in more and more of a ‘reactive state’ where you are just carrying out tasks for others and giving freely of your time. This is fine, except it leaves little room for you to be proactive and for you to focus on the things you love or working toward the goals that matter to you.
THIS is why you need to organize your mind: so that you can avoid distractions and so that you can focus more on the things that are important to you. You need to really value your time – because you only have so much of it and you shouldn’t be spending it on things that don’t matter or that make you unhappy.
3 Areas To Start with When Organizing Your Mind
The first way to start organizing your mind and reducing information overload is to simplify your lifestyle. That means removing the unnecessary decisions and distractions and making everything as easy as possible.
Steve Jobs was a firm believer in decision fatigue and he aimed to get around this by wearing the same outfit every single day. If you take a look at any videos of Steve Jobs past a certain point, you’ll notice he is always wearing the same jeans and roll neck. His idea was that by wearing this same outfit every day, he would remove the need to make the decision about what to wear and thus have more mental bandwidth available for other tasks.
You might not choose to wear the same outfit every day as that is a rather big commitment. However, you may nevertheless try to reduce the amount of stress involved in your decision making process and you can do this in a number of ways.
For instance, planning things like what you’re going to wear and what you’re going to eat at the start of the week can remove the decisions for later on and enable you to simply carry out the steps that you’ve laid out for yourself.
And you can still be flexible – instead of deciding what to wear on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc., you could just come up with some outfits that you can wear and then choose which one from those options in the morning.
Likewise, you can buy ingredients at the start of the week to make a few different meals and then choose which one to make when you’re about to prepare food.
Having fewer clothes also leaves you with fewer decisions and you can introduce all kinds of routines and systems to make things even easier. Instead of struggling with whether or not to do the washing up each evening, introduce a simple system that helps you to keep on top of it – that might even mean eating on paper plates when you don’t have guests so you can just throw them away!
Likewise, eating the same breakfast and lunch every day can also help you to save energy and reduce decisions. This also then makes it more feasible that you can set up a standing order with your local grocery store – now you don’t have to do a weekly shop because the bulk of your shopping will make its own way to you. All that’s left is to buy a few supplementary ingredients for your evening meals.
Try to reduce the number of decisions you need to make by reducing the number of clothes you have to choose from. Even getting a smaller home can make life a little easier. We’re always led to believe that ‘more is better’ but sometimes scaling back and simplifying is the key to being happier!
This brings us nicely on to the next point: decluttering. By reducing the amount of things you have around the home and by organizing your possessions in a systematic manner, you can create less work for yourself and make your home much more relaxing to be in.
One of the simplest and best ways to do this is simply to throw out a lot of your possessions. If you have lots of ornaments and knick-knacks, then try halving them – you’ll find that this leaves you with a higher average quality of item (because only your very favorite things will be left) which will have a better visual impact when people look around your home.
What’s more though, is that you’ll feel less claustrophobic and it will be easier to keep things clean and tidy. Now you can simply wipe your surfaces to quickly clean them.
This will help you to stay more organized but you can introduce systems to help that further. By introducing systems, you can break down your work into simple steps that you carry out every day instead of hitting yourself with one large chore when the house has become a mess.
Another tip is to outsource and automate where possible. If you have the money, then hiring a cleaner could be one of the best investments you ever make. Why? Because you’re investing in your time and in your energy. You’re buying back that time so that you can spend it with your family, working on your dream projects or engaging in your favorite hobbies. Now that’s a good investment.
If you don’t have the means to hire a cleaner though, then consider outsourcing to tools and equipment. For instance, you might buy a robotic vacuum cleaner that can keep your home looking pristine at all times. If washing up is a problem for you then a dishwasher can make life much easier.
You can also streamline and declutter other areas of your life. Hair taking too long to wash and dry in the morning? Cut it shorter. It sounds like a small thing but you just bought yourself another 5 minutes each day and saved yourself on products.
Even if your home life is perfectly streamlined and simplified, you can still find yourself struggling with work and with the best will in the world this will spill over into your personal life.
If you don’t find ways to reduce the strain you face at work, then you will have no energy at the end of the day.
The first thing to do then is to start working in a more optimized fashion. If you’re stressed at work then you need to work through that looming to-do list and free yourself up some space. The best way to do this is to change the way you approach your tasks.
Instead of starting the day with a cup of tea and checking Facebook, start your day by diving right into the biggest and most important task you have. This will ensure that even if you complete nothing else, you’ll have a huge amount of work under your belt for that day and will have made progress. What you’ll find though, is that this is motivating enough to get you in the right frame of mind for working through your subsequent tasks.
Of course you might still want a cup of tea and you might still need to occasionally check your email. To fit these tasks in, set yourself goals such as completing X amount of work before you can do one of those things for ten minutes.
This will motivate you to keep working, provide you with a short break to recharge your batteries and ensure that you’re still achieving a lot in the meantime. Instead of seeing time sink into these unnecessary activities and then realizing it’s 11am and you’ve done no work yet, you’ll instead find that by the time you’ve first checked your email, you’ve already completed half of your chores!
You can even formalize this process by using the ‘Pomodoro Technique’. This involves using a timer to segment your work blocks and blocks of rest and recovery.
Email is one of the worst culprits when it comes to putting us in a reactive state of mind and stealing our time. If you find it stressful not looking at it right away, then consider setting up an autoresponder to let people know that you only answer your messages at certain times of day. This can also include an emergency contact number and that way, you know that if it is an emergency people can still contact you.
Where else can you organize your mind?
Try to remove distractions everywhere else as far as possible too. Listen to music or even white noise to block out sounds that might startle you and if you have to make phone calls, keep them brief by starting each conversation saying it ‘will have to be quick’.
All these tips should help you to finish work a lot faster. This then means you can legitimately leave work on time and it’s very important that you do avoid the temptation to stay extra hours. In fact, discuss with your boss the possibility of working from home or using flexi-time to avoid the rush hour.
What you should find is that you now have more energy when you get home from work. Use this energy to complete chores and ‘open loops’ that are causing you stress. These are tasks like returning phone calls, RSVPing to events and sorting out bills that you are putting off but which are playing on your mind. Complete these early while you still have energy and you’ll be able to switch off completely for the rest of the evening.
Your dinner is already sorted (remember?) and you should have left work at the office. This now means you have the rest of the evening to spend doing the things you love – whether that’s playing with your family, working on personal projects or just chilling and reading.
Of course there’s more to it than that. You also need to make sure you identify what those things you love are and what your goals are. And you’re going to need to get your social life under control if you want to have that time to yourself in the evenings.