As the number of stimuli that the modern mind is exposed to grows, experts say a reassessment of your work processes and thoughts is good to avoid "mental clutter". Here are some simple steps to get you started.
Create a buffer
We all have unexpected events during the day. Trying to find parking, fielding questions from colleagues on the mobile – all these things can force you to halt your current train of thought and embark on new ones, chewing up valuable mental energy.
A Life Less Frantic blogger Kelly Exeter found that dealing with life's interruptions left her in a permanently frantic state. So she cut back on commitments and her desire to be there for everyone, which delivered the necessary buffer in her schedule to calm her frenzied mind.
Short-term pain, long-term gain
According to author David Cain, we do things to please either our Right Now Self or Future Self. When the alarm goes off at 5am, do you please your Right Now Self and hit snooze, or do you look after your Future Self and head out to exercise?
"If you're spending a great deal of time bargaining with yourself about whether or not to get out of bed early to study or exercise, it creates mental clutter before you've even started the day," says Kelly Exeter. Making things like regular study and exercise non-negotiable, and removing as many choices as possible (such as what to eat for breakfast), results in less mental bickering and improved self-discipline.
Avoid toxic relationships
Are there people in your life who often cancel on you or take more than they give? These people fill your mind with unnecessary baggage, says professional life coach Robert Holmes. "They made the statement, or did the behaviour, then checked out. They're sleeping well and you are left grinding away at it." Holmes adds that while they may get to choose the behaviour, it is you who holds the power to choose the consequences.
Decisions can take a split second or they can drag on. All the hypothesising and role-playing that comes in the quest to make an "informed decision" just adds to mental clutter, says productivity professional Roz Howland. "Set limits, both in terms of time as well as the parameters that define your information-gathering activities," she advises.
There's more than one way to meditate
Can't bring yourself to sit still for long enough to enjoy the decluttering benefits of meditation? Try something else that does work for you, says Holmes. "Walk the dog in the morning; curl up in bed and read a novel." Exeter finds stillness and quiet do not work to clear her mental cobwebs, but running does. "When I run, my thoughts get themselves into some kind of order ... then the crappy thoughts disperse," she says.
Feed your mind
American writer David Ryan Polgar says many people suffer from "mental obesity". He recommends drawing up a "mental food plate" to evaluate the "food" and "portions" we are feeding our mind. Assess what contributes to your clutter, and consider the quality and quantity of information consumed – is it apples or chocolate? Do you make time to reflect? Do you train your brain?
Practice makes perfect
Mental clutter is not something that can be eliminated in one go. Exeter often finds herself going back and forth between "getting there" and "already there". "I don't think any dedicated mind clutterer will ever be fully reformed," she says. "But they are better equipped to identify when they are heading back to that cluttered state, and so are able to pull back from it more quickly."