How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

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How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

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When you have many thoughts in your mind, it can be overwhelming. Maybe you won’t be able to focus on just the thing you’re working on because of other things on your mind; or worse, you can’t fall asleep because of all the thoughts that get stuck in your brain.

But don’t worry, in this article I’ll get you some practical tips on how to declutter your mind for a sharper brain.

Table of Contents

  1. Why is your mind cluttered?
  2. How to declutter your mind — utilizing a brain dump
    • 1. Do a brain dump for 10 minutes every day
    • 2. Categorize your brain dump
    • 3. Turn ideas into a to-do list
  3. The less clutter, the sharper your brain

Why is your mind cluttered?

With access to different information platforms like Google, Facebook, News channels, families and even your own perspectives walking down the street, your mind becomes cluttered. Your brain is busier than ever before as an information-processing system. [1]

As you sit down to work in front of your computer, you may find yourself too overwhelmed to focus. Your head is stuck and you are mentally paralyzed.

An office worker could be trying to finish his project but gets distracted by customer emails. A mom of two kids could be wondering how she would ever be able to meet her deadline. An entrepreneur could be battling his fears of not doing good enough and thinking about getting a new job. [2]

What happens all the time is that you don’t give your brain one thing to focus on. Your brain is trying to focus on too many things at once and you end up getting stuck.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

“Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli, causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.”

When you are not giving yourself a place to focus, your mind chooses to focus on the fears and negative emotions. This makes you end up losing time and money.

How to declutter your mind — utilizing a brain dump

Decluttering your mind starts with a brain dump. It can last as quick as ten minutes.

According to Tech Target, [3]

“A brain dump is a complete transfer of accessible knowledge about a particular subject from your brain to some other storage medium, such as paper or your computer’s hard drive.”

Brain dumps is the best way to take everything going on in your head out onto paper. This can get yourself out of a state of overwhelm and confusion, and turn your mental paralysis into action.

By doing an effective brain dump, you release all of the information your brain tries to store and allows you to decide what is important.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

1. Do a brain dump for 10 minutes every day

Each night when you are done for the day, do a brain dump exercise.

Use this information to build out your to do list for the next day. This also frees up your mind to focus on family and even sleep.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

You may find that when you get started with a brain dump, you have a hard time writing down what is in your mind.

At other times you may mass distribute the words in your head onto paper at rapid speed.

Whichever the case, grab a pen and paper and set the timer for ten minutes.

Whatever comes to your mind, write it down. Do not edit as you write or worry about grammar. By simply writing, you transfer all of that information and later you will read this information and store it as needed.

Write for ten minutes straight, if you cannot think of anything to write, write “I have nothing to write”. Doing this keeps your pen to paper and opens up the creative flow.

2. Categorize your brain dump

Jotting everything down on paper and putting items into your calendar is the goal. It starts with looking at your braindump and identifying the themes.

  • Are there projects / tasks on the paper?
  • Which items are new ideas?
  • Which items are work related, family related, or hobby related?

Create different categories and begin organizing each of the items on your braindump. Include a miscellaneous section for the random thoughts that you have.

When you start to organize your brain dump, you can see where your mind is focused and possibly where you need to spend more time.

An effective brain dump will allow you to focus on what matters. What you write down may not be relevant right now but you may need it at a future date.

3. Turn ideas into a to-do list

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

When you do your brain dumps at night, you are able to create your to-do list for the next day and set yourself up for success. Instead of showing up to work the next morning to get organized, you are ready to go and can jump right in.

While building your to-do list, you can either defer tasks to a later date or delegate them out.

Take a look at your calendar and start carving in the time. Identify the tasks that need to be done the next day or a few days later, focusing in on two to three major tasks a day. You can prioritize the tasks based on their importance and urgency.

When braindumping becomes a part of your life, you will notice that you’re less overwhelmed and have more time to focus on tasks at hand. You will see a boost in your productivity and the quality of work.

The less clutter, the sharper your brain

Brain dumping is a great way to declutter your brain, from negative emotions to the tasks you work on each day.

At the end of your day, conduct a brain dump for ten minutes. Give yourself enough time after the brain dump to take a look at the tasks on your list.

Identify the tasks that have a high priority and cannot be delegated or deferred, and begin to place the high priority tasks into your calendar.

By focusing on the tasks each day, you know what you are working on and what your next step is. You will save a lot of time and energy by spending it on what matters.

How does your brain feel right now?

Does it feel a bit cluttered with too many thoughts and ideas?

I’ve been there (many times) and today I’d like to share five ways to declutter your brain that I’ve found to be helpful.

The overarching goal: to get ideas out of your head and onto the page so that you can then do something useful with those ideas.

First up, grab a pen and a notebook and simply write whatever words and sentences come to mind as fast as you can, without worrying about what makes it onto the page.

This is know as stream of consciousness journaling, which I first heard about in a high school language arts class (hi Mrs. Long!) and then was exposed to again thanks to Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and her description of Morning Pages.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

Decluttering Technique #1: Stream of Consciousness Journaling

The point of this activity is to give your brain a place to dump whatever thoughts, memories, and preoccupations about the future that are currently cluttering it up.

The point is not to immediately review that journal entry – that can do more harm than good because of the free-form nature of it.

So once you’ve done your stream of consciousness journaling, close your notebook and move on with your day.

Our second approach for decluttering your brain is a bit more organized and actionable: the simple bullet point list.

Give each individual idea its own bullet point, and describe it in as short a phrase as possible.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

Decluttering Technique #2: The Bullet Point List

You can then either do some sorting and figure out follow-up steps right there in the moment, or put that list away and come back to it later.

The helpful thing with this one is knowing that each idea has been captured, that you won’t lose any of those ideas, and that you can return to them when you’re ready.

If you’d prefer a more modular and flexible approach to getting ideas out of your head, then consider using index cards.

Grab a stack of them, and on each one get down one of the ideas that you’re thinking about.

Feel free to capture each idea in whatever format best suits it – maybe a short phrase will do, maybe a quick sketch would be better, or even a small diagram.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

Decluttering Technique #3: One Idea Per Card

The power of this approach is that after capturing all of those ideas, you can then sort and group them, moving the cards around as needed, depending on what follow-up action you decide is best.

That modularity and flexibility is what makes this one of my favorite approaches for capturing lots of ideas at once.

Moving paper around is great, but moving your entire body around can be even more helpful.

So put some shoes on, throw a small notebook in your pocket, and go for a walk.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

Decluttering Technique #4: A Walking Journal

While walking, capture each idea as it comes to you.

The physical motion will get more blood flowing to your brain, and the slowly changing scenery will help to give you a new perspective on whatever it is that you’ve been thinking about.

In that way, you’ll be letting your physical momentum lead to idea momentum so that you can move forward with whatever project or task is occupying your thoughts.

So far we’ve been talking about fairly small materials: journals, index cards, and small notebooks.

In this final technique we’ll move in the opposite direction, toward large-scale poster paper and a big mind map that not only captures all of the ideas you’re thinking about, but also maps the connections between them.

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

Decluttering Technique #5: Large-Scale Mind Map

With this approach, as each new idea makes it onto the page, you add lines to connect the new idea to any previous one that it’s related to.

Those connected ideas, along with the ability to walk back and forth in front of that large-scale mind map, will allow you to see your thoughts from a new perspective, and better determine what to do next with them.

So if you’re currently in need of some decluttering, give one (or more) of the techniques above a try.

Use those techniques as a starting point, and experiment with any adjustments that might help you more effectively get ideas out of your head and onto a page so that you can do something useful with those ideas.

If you’d like to develop visual note-taking as one of the tools to help with that decluttering and organizing of ideas, then I think you’d enjoy our course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking:

How clutter drains your brain (and how to declutter)

You can also check out our full course library here.

Good luck as you fine-tune the decluttering techniques we explored in this post. I hope you find an approach that works well for you.