Clearing Up the Mental Clutter – Part 1

Have you ever struggled to fall asleep only to wake up at 2AM and struggle all over again for another couple hours?

Have you ever sat down at your desk with the idea that you’re going to get something specific accomplished only to look at the clock and find the day’s over?

Are there times when you think you’re capable of more but are so bogged down by details that you’re constantly stressed and can’t focus on a bigger picture?

I can answer yes to all of those and I know I’m not alone.  This topic has come up several times with friends and colleagues.  Just in the last week I had two casual situations where this happened.  The first was with a sales rep who had flown in the morning to get to a meeting I was working then flew back that evening.  We were talking at the airport on the way home and he was relaying how he’s got to write important tasks down before he goes to bed.  They could be work-related or something for his family.  If he doesn’t get it down on paper, then he does the 2AM thing and ends up watching documentaries on TV.
Bombs going off in your head do not lead to a good night's sleep.
Bombs going off in your head do not lead to a good night’s sleep.
The other case was my boss emailing this article to his peers then to his team.  The article notes how many experts are telling us to multitask and fill each day until it’s about to explode so we’re as productive as possible.  It contrasts that approach with the need to spend time not working ourselves to death and take the time to think a few levels above the details.  My boss’ email went into how he thinks best when he’s unplugged on a plane and invariably gets something great planned when he flies coast-to-coast.  Then he lands and it all starts again.

I’m honestly a huge fan of air travel because it’s uninterrupted time I can take myself offline and do what I want to.  I cache stories from the Web I want to read for personal or work reasons.  I stare at clouds a good bit.  I also write a fairly large percentage of my blogs in the air or in an airport.  The entire purpose of the blog to begin with was to express some of what I bottle up and spend too much time dwelling on.  An expanded version of what that sales rep was talking about in the airport.  I also take time each morning I can to sit with my coffee and flip through stories across the Web.  There’s a running Brainstorming folder in Evernote where I keep track of ideas.

The other day on the way to take a ride on my road bike (another good place to think – or not think) I saw a portable storage unit on the back of a truck.  It struck me that we each carry one of these around in our head and store thoughts in them.  There are the big ones which sit there like dressers or couches and demand that we fit everything around them.  There’s also the small wastebaskets we put small items in which we need to get at later but which always get shoved in a corner.  The big couches tend to take precedence but the little boxes cause us concern and we have to find ways to deal with them all.
Mental Storage Units
To continue the analogy, you can always throw more junk in the storage locker.  There’s always going to be another email in your inbox or another phone call you can stuff in your day.  There gets to be a point where it stops making sense though.  That’s because you’re so tied down with each filled half-hour block that your day leaves you gasping for air.  You lose track of the big thoughts because you’re stuck on the little things and you’re not any more effective.  What’s really needed is a way to deal with the whole mess which makes sense to you.

Everyone’s different so I’m not going to make a list and say what works for me will work for you.  I do have two pieces of advice however.  First, make time for your thinking.  Do it over coffee.  Do it before work.  Do it over lunch or just schedule a meeting for yourself where you’re the only attendee.  Make the time to get it done and make it a commitment to yourself.

My second piece of advice is to get the nagging stuff out of your head.  A list you write down before going to bed may do it.  A calendar item you schedule for yourself to walk into the next morning may help you put a close to a day’s work.  Time at the dinner table with family going over what everyone has done can be fun.  My youngest son loves that one and it’s always his idea to do it.  I actually did an Oprah-Deepack Chopra meditation challenge the last three weeks.  I listened to each day’s message right as I was going to bed.  I was less concerned with the overall message and more concerned with clearing everything out of my head.  I slept like a rock every night.


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