Decluttering Your Brain

· 4 min read

As I sit down to write this I’m facing the end of a Sunday and the end of a very long two weeks. I’ve had a host of interviews for a new job, a metric tonne of work at my current job, a lack of sleep and a general feeling of exhaustion. And it’s days like this that when I want to do something, to sit down and get through some of my own personal stuff, that I hit the brick wall of me staring at my ceiling not knowing what to do.

Image of my ceiling. There are four lights, they are not interesting to look at, despite how often I do.

If your physical life is cluttered (your bedroom or study or office) it negatively impacts you and, assuming you have the time and inclination, you will eventually rectify the situation. Whether out of an external demand (your significant other getting upset) or through an internal need, a self-regulated need to get yourself back on track. This self-induced repair of your surroundings is a way to help restore some mental hygiene. Like your physical health you mental health needs some attending to, if left unattended eventually it will get worse. Okay, so ideas take up space in our heads, cluttering up everything and generally being a nuisance. Even if we never action them, they remain, waiting for their time in the sun. So what’s a practical way to remove these ideas and declutter your mind?

Obviously the first is to action them. I’ve recently started putting (where I can) the ideas on paper, for story ideas that don’t really have a fully fleshed-out novel or novella length premise I write a short story. But this takes time, for example, to do a first draft of one of these little asides it takes me around six hours. And that’s a writing project where the only requirement is that I sit down, think and type. Hardware projects are even longer, and novellas and novels even longer again. So, obviously you’re limited in how many you employ the use of direct action on.

The next step that has worked for many people is the task list, if you’re a fan of out-and-out lists then there’s a swarm of apps available to you, Google Keep, OmniFocus, Todoist just to name a few. But I find that my To Do lists just end up hidden away somewhere with one or two boxes ticked. I’m more project focused than individual task focused so my solution was to have a To Do list for the little things, the chaff that litters your mind but actually needs doing, they go into the task list. And then I have a project list on a Kanban board (I have a post-it version on the back of my bedroom door and a digital version in the cloud). And it’s this that helps declutter more from my head. When I have an idea for a project and it’s remained with me for any length of time I write a note and add it to the board, there it can sit and I can be comfortable in knowing that I’ll remember what was involved when it progresses through the list far enough, there’s also the added benefit of being to add notes to it as needed so that I don’t forget the good idea that I had for it in the shower that morning. And if a project remains there for too long it gets removed.

Killing the idea always hurts, it’s the last real stage but a necessary one, not all ideas are worthy of the time and attention that they would require to get them out into the world. Many people hate the idea, they hate the prospect of killing a perfectly good idea. So when I say kill the idea, I really mean archive the idea. Because I have a digital project board I’ve been able to encourage myself to simply remove the card, I archive it, hiding it from the board entirely, and it passing doesn’t concern me because, in the event that I suddenly want it back (though I’ve never had it happen yet), I can be safe in the knowledge that it’ll be waiting there in the hidden graveyard of ideas that is my archived cards.

So, does it help? Anecdotally, yes, it does. And with the fortnight now behind me, I can say that I don’t think some of my ideas would have survived if I was just relying on them floating inside my head when faced with the onslaught of my work commitments.