When it comes to mental clutter, the underlying message really isn’t that much different from other forms of tiding up like cleaning your room or doing the dishes. Simplifying your environment allows your mind to focus better on what is right in front of you, and not on the distractions in your peripheral vision.
1. Visual Clutter & Stress
Do you ever feel like a giant mess when you’re IN a giant mess? Research shows that the “visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce our working memory.” So in case there was any doubt in your mind, clutter can indeed make you feel uneasy, irritable and even more likely to procrastinate. The question then becomes how can you declutter your environment without having to waste all of your Sunday doing house chores?
TIP #1: Develop the habit of putting things back where they belong once you’ve finished using them. Just like you, your belonging also have a home to return to. Don’t leave them stranded!
TIP #2: Dedicate 5 minutes or less every day to cleaning a small area in your home. Brushed your teeth? Wipe the sink clean before leaving the bathroom. The lesson here is taking preventative action, because before you know it – you end up with a laundry pile like mine that puts mount Everest to shame.
“A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”(Chinese Proverb)
2. The Myth of Multitasking
Multitasking is a myth. Your brain cannot do multiple things at once; it engages in task switching. And flicking that light switch on and off every time you change activities takes a toll on your mind. The article “The True Cost of Multitasking” found on Psychology Today states that multitasking can actually decrease productivity by up to 40%. So let’s both hold hands and stop fooling ourselves. Instead of multitasking, let’s make a conscious effort to:
TIP #1: Group similar activities together. For example, allocate 1 hour to focus on answering emails instead of checking them every 5 minutes whiles in the middle of writing a paper. Chunking tasks allows your mind to zone in and perfect the action itself, which is the first step to entering what I like to call the Study Bubble…But more on that later.
TIP #2: Create themed weeks with those mini weekly goals I keep telling you about so that your energy is not dispersed all over the place. I know that being an overworked hamster is #lifegoals but running in that wheel of yours without a purpose or a finish line is NOT the way to go bro.
3. Freeing up Your Mental Space
One of the main reasons why so many successful students speak about routines and habits is because they minimize the mental effort required to start tasks (new or old). The more you automate processes in your day to day life, the more you free up your mind to actually do the work that counts. Spending 20 minutes in the morning trying to decide what outfit to wear is mental exercise. Trying to figure out where you left off since your last study session is also cognitively depleting and makes you more likely to procrastinate when you finally know what you have to do. Bottom line, thinking about trivial things or prepping before a challenging task clutters your mind just as much as a messy desk.
4. The Dark Side of Social Comparison
It has been proven time and time again that constant social comparison can lead to excessive worry, feeling chronically insecure, anxious and can even increase the chance of having depressive symptoms. All of these act as, you’ve guessed it, mental clutter – obstructing your thoughts and draining your willpower with rumination, doubt and negative self-talk. A little trick that has helped me deal with my inner critic is replacing a few words like so:
When you catch yourself thinking: “Why can’t I be that motivated?”
Replace it with: “How can I be that motivated?”
5. The Power of Limiting Choice
In the book The Paradox of Choice, the author Barry Schwartz states that having too many choices contributes to bad decisions, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, mental paralysis (so overthinking) and depression. When it comes to evaluating your options, try limiting them by focusing on 3 or 5 at a time. Not only can you then dig deeper into each option but you also don’t overwhelm your mind with surface-level information on 30 possible solutions.