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Do you find that your mind is constantly jumping from one thing to another? Is it difficult to complete even one simple task because of constant interruptions? Much has been written about the mental load that we moms carry. In many families, we are the keepers of all the family’s information. We remember the shoe sizes, which kid doesn’t like broccoli, and when each family member’s birthday happens. We maintain the grocery list, know who has clean underwear in the drawer, and remember who needs to go to the doctor next Tuesday.
While managing all this data, we are constantly being interrupted by little people requesting a glass of water, telling stories about their favorite cartoons, and crying “he hit me!” Too much information to manage combined with too many distractions makes us irritable and unproductive. We reach the end of the day stressed, exhausted, and at odds with our families with seemingly little to show for it. There’s no doubt that the mom brain has a lot to manage. It is possible to clear some of the mental clutter, though, with these six easy tips.
Clear Mental Clutter Tip #1: Write it down
One of the keys to eliminating mental clutter is reducing the number of things you need to remember. I regularly perform a “brain dump”–writing down all of the things that are rattling around in my head. These things may be tasks I need to accomplish, important dates that are coming up, or simply facts I don’t want to forget.
Once I’ve compiled this giant list, I transfer important dates to the calendar (with reminders scheduled if I think I’ll need them). I organize notes into apps like Trello or Evernote that are easily indexed and searched. All of the endless to-dos are added onto a master list in the “Notes” section of my tablet.
On Sunday nights, I look at this giant master to-do list and make a shorter list of the top things that need to be accomplished over the week. During the week, If other non-urgent tasks pop up that are unrelated to the things on that list, I’ll jot them down on my master list for another time.
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Clear Mental Clutter Tip #2: Resist the urge to multitask
It’s tempting to listen to that podcast you’ve been wanting to enjoy while cleaning the bathroom, send a couple of emails while you’re on the couch watching TV, or chat on the phone with a friend while you tidy up the living room. The problem is that neither of the things you’re trying to do gets done well, and your brain is maxed out trying to manage both things. Indeed, research shows that multitasking actually lowers your productivity.
I’ve noticed that I am much more likely to snap at my kids when I’m trying to multitask, too, as their simple questions or requests add more load onto an already maxed-out brain. I am really working on doing one thing at a time, and I’ve felt much calmer, less distracted, and less irritable as a result.
Clear Mental Clutter Tip #3: Clean up your physical environment
Visual clutter is distracting and anxiety-producing. A study of families done by UCLA found that mothers’ stress hormones spiked when surrounded by their families’ clutter.
Having a cluttered environment can make finding the thing that you need difficult, and constantly cleaning up a mess takes mental energy away from other things you need to focus on. Strive to keep the number of your possessions manageable, to put things away after you’ve used them, and to encourage your family members to do the same.
Clear Mental Clutter Tip #4: Turn off notifications on your phone or tablet and put it down
Smartphones and tablets are such wonderful tools, but they are also incredibly distracting. It’s hard not to respond to the little dings and flashes when notifications pop up. It’s tempting to pick up a device to check what the name of that actress is in the movie you’re watching. It’s difficult to not check the news or pop onto Facebook for a second.
Consider turning off notifications on your phone or tablet. If you’re afraid of missing something important, you can schedule several times during the day when you can check for messages or you can allow notifications to come through for your most important contacts. I recently turned off all notifications except for calls/texts from my family and best friend and found that even that small change made me feel a little calmer and less distracted. My goal, though, continues to be less screen time in general.
Clear Mental Clutter Tip #5: Meditate
I think we moms all feel like we can’t possibly take the time to sit and not think about anything, but training your brain to be still is undeniably one of the best ways to clear mental clutter. There are loads of ways to meditate and plenty of ways to learn the skill.
I found the Headspace app to be a really terrific way to learn the practice. It records the number of days you’ve meditated in a row (great for those, like me, who get a kick out of maintaining their streak). It actually trains you *how* to meditate with a 30-day course that increasingly gives your brain more quiet time. It also has many different categories and lengths of guided meditations. I love the little 3-minute ones on topics like “Stress” and “Feeling Overwhelmed” that I can use locked in the bathroom in the middle of the day. My kids even ask to “listen to Andy” (he has kids’ meditations) before they go to sleep.
Regardless of the method you use, strive to spend a few minutes every day with a quiet mind.
Clear Mental Clutter Tip #6: Repeat to yourself, “this is what I’m doing right now”
I suspect that even after putting the five steps above in place, many of us still have brains that are racing from one thing to another and not concentrating on the task at hand. It feels a little silly, but when my mind is racing, I’ve found a spoken reminder can be the thing that finally makes my brain shut up. If I’m writing a blog post, but thinking about the pile of laundry that needs folded, I’ll say “I’m writing now.” As a concession to my busy brain, I might write “laundry” at the bottom of the page, but stating my purpose out loud has a way of refocusing my attention on the task at hand.
The six steps above have really helped clear some of my mental clutter, and as a result, my mind is racing a little less. No, I’m not using this system perfectly yet. Last night, I sent a few emails while playing the kids their nighttime meditation instead of focusing on enjoying the calming time myself. I still spend far too much time staring at the screens of my various devices. My ‘brain dump’ notes can get scattered in several places. In general, though, I feel calmer, less distracted, and less irritable since I’ve started clearing the mental clutter.
How do you manage mental clutter?
Share your tips in the comments!
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