I recently wrote about my ongoing process of clearing clutter in my home and the messages that were appearing to help me work on it. The second article to appear in my consciousness was about clearning mental clutter, called Getting Rid of Your Mental Lint (by Leigh Newman on oprah.com).
Very timely indeed. I often feel distracted and unsettled when I am working, so I needed some guidance on this one. Although there are lots of great hints and ideas in the article, two things really caught my eye 1) To do lists and 2) Multitasking
To do lists and items on the list
I have to admit, I am one for making lists – on paper and stickies, on the fridge pad, in Evernote, in my work diary and in my bullet journal. They are everywhere and some items just never seem to go away. Laura Stack is quoted in the article saying that a single, giant to-do list paralyses people. I agree with that feeling! Instead, she suggests that we make a separate, shorter list everyday, which she calls “the hit list” – these are the two or three things that absolutely have to be completed to make it feel as if it were a productive day. Ok, good advice. Time to shorten the never-ending list! (By the way, there are also suggestions for what to do with those other items!)
However, David Allen (a productivity coach for executives) suggests that it isn’t enough to simply write a vague idea on this list as it will keep coming back to haunt you if you don’t make a decision about the idea and add some action steps to the list. He uses the example of “Mom’s birthday”, but asks what about it? Are you going to give her a birthday party? Are you going to send her flowers? The action is important to stop the mind constantly thinking about the idea. Allen says “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them,” Once your idea—and the specific action it requires—is in a safe place like a list, you can think about other, more important or immediate concerns.
This made a lot of sense when I read it. It reminded me of my work with mathematics learning, where people talk of working memory, which is the ability to maintain and manipulate information over a brief period of time. In 2010 John Pegg explained that initial processing of information happens in working memory, which is of limited capacity. Working memory is used to organise, contrast, compare, or work on information. Long-term memory is where permanent knowledge is stored for long periods of time and we access and work on this stored knowledge through our working memory. So, we must work on our ability to store information/knowledge in long-term memory and learn to recall that information we need from long term memory when we need to deal with it.
Back to Allen’s idea. Once the idea has been written down along with the specific actions, it will move out of working memory. This is then freed up to deal with other things, as Allen points out.
I find it puzzling that I did not make this connection between something I know in my work life to my personal life. It often takes someones else’s view to make you see connections. That’s what learning is all about though.
The second thing that caught my eye in the article about mental clutter, was the bit about multitasking. I am guilty of this in so many ways. I sometimes work on more than one thing at a time at work and in my personal life, rather than giving one thing my full attention. I constantly check my phone for notifications and messages, whilst I am trying to do another task. I find this distracting beyond belief.
This article says that this multitasking can be “mentally depleting”. Fatigue comes from constantly switching from one activity to another to another without focusing on one task at a time until it is finished. That sounds about right.
So what to do about it? The article suggests that to avoid getting distracted by devices that are engineered specifically to take us away from what we’re doing, we need to set everything to silent. This includes ourselves, every once in a while.
Easier said than done I think. But something to try out in the next few days. What are your thoughts?
All photographs and text are my own apart from where I have referenced others. In this case, links have been provided to their words.
Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Oprah.com or any of the people mentioned in the Oprah article.