Time For A Mental Decluttering

I no longer remember exactly where I heard the phrase mental decluttering, but my body reacted immediately and my mind slowed. Those two reactions combined are always firm signs I have seen or heard an idea that I need to pay attention to. Sometimes it is life changing, redirecting my path and redefining how I look at things. Other times like this, it's creates an image, an idea to consider.

After pondering for awhile, I found it was easiest to explore this idea by thinking of moving.  In preparation, I go through each possession while packing and, if I have lived in one place long enough, I find myself discarding or giving away lots of things I no longer need. When in my new place, I spend time finding a place for everything and adding new furniture as needed. My house starts out clean, well-organized, and everything currently in it has been chosen by me to be there.

Unless you are one of those super organized minimalists, we all know what happens next.  You buy this here, you put that away as you're not using it, you get a gift that you don’t need, you receive a family heirloom, you put a few things aside to deal with  later, things start wearing out...the list goes on.  Suddenly there are little nests of of unwanted clutter you no longer need or want having babies in some dark corner. That's right, I am convinced it reproduces in the dark. 

I think it was 3 years after we moved to our current home we decided to take out every box in our storage area and go through them.  It was shocking to find we were missing some boxes with treasures. How did they disappear? It was equally shocking after we did such an extreme cleanse before moving here to find ourselves shedding another 30% of stuff.  Perhaps there is a formula to guide decluttering such as - when settled in one place for a long time we should try to sort and shed 10% a year.  I may embrace this one. 

Once I had that image firmly in place I turned to my mind.  My ADD mind is a lovely racing machine. My body isn't - a conflict that is hard to unify at times.  While distracting, there is a joy when I'm thinking in full monkey mode (also known as SQUIRRELS).  Intriguing random ideas pop up that inspire creativity and I can become a writing beast when I focus in on just one or two. The adrenalin rush is addictive. 

The downsides for me are mental clutter and an energy crash at the end.  I have learned over the years how to harness this two-sided gift and reap more of the rewards with fewer of the downsides.  I have learned when to unleash my mind to run free and when to ride it with reins in hand, keeping it to a dignified trot.  The resulting accumulation of clutter, however, was a new idea to me and one that struck a chord.

For all creatives, when we are being bombarded with inspiration, it's hard to let go of a single idea. I love every time a creative thought that randomly pops up. I hang on to them feverishly and try to keep them all in my consciousness so I don't forget a single one.  That makes it impossible to focus or and finish anything.  It is like juggling while continuing to add one more, then one more, than one more item. Eventually you have too many to handle and you drop them all.

I have learned several ways to record ideas as they arise so I don't cling to them tightly in fear.  I make notes in my phone, I text them to myself, I write them in blog drafts and have a notebook I jot in while listening to anything audio.  Sometimes when I return to the idea days later, it has lost it's charm and I delete it. Other times an idea smiles at me from the mix and whispers, "Write about me. You are ready."

Another problem for creatives is dealing with the outside responsibilities of our jobs - promoting, marketing, financials, etc.  They are a distraction from creating, and worry about dealing with them can start running like a continuous recording in the background, distracting us from our artistic endeavors.  I am still working on this one, but I think I need to come up with a checklist I can write them into just like I do for the ideas that bubble up.  

Whatever I end up settling on, it needs to be a way that allows me stop trying to keep juggling all the creative ideas and business tasks in my conscious mind.  I need to confidently and firmly set down each down, then forget about them until I am ready to take action. This will allow me to focus my mind one hundred percent, without distraction, on a single task.  I suspect, just like in my home, I will need to repeat the mental decluttering process on a regular basis. Clutter seems to regularly accumulate unconsciously.

The research is supports this approach.  In Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, the author shares what science has discovered about interrupted focus and it's not good. In most places of business you are interrupted regularly by phone calls, emails and co-workers.  Each time you are interrupted, the thought flow stops and has to be restarted again. This slows you down and makes you less affective at production. He says you aren’t really juggling, or multi-tasking, you are jumping from one task to the next, to the next over and over, slowing your production rate and causing you to lose accuracy and focus along the way.

Think of all those ideas you are trying to hold front and center at the same time as interruptions. If you can find a way to set them all down, then pick up one single idea and focus on it, you will be able to finish it faster and more successfully.  Then pick up the next and when done, pick up the next.  All you need to do is discover the best way to set them down without fear of loss and you are on your way. When I finally learned how to do this, I began to finish my day's work in half the time. 

And that, my friend, is the way to approach whatever your to do list holds.  One small bite of the elephant after another. One step, one moment, one breath at a time.