“CEOs and presidents have many of the daily distractions of life handled for them, allowing them to devote all of their attention to what is immediately before them.”
I’m kind of obsessed with learning about how our mind works and Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind gives some great tips for how to be more productive while maintaining a measure of calm. Many of the tips centre around one of the key findings of brain research in recent years; that our brain is limited in the number of decisions it is able to make each day and it doesn’t distinguish between the important and the unimportant decisions.
10 tips for developing a more organised mind
1. Create order in our environment. Outer order contributes to inner calm. This is so true for me. I build in time to declutter often. I’ve found it really helpful to spend the first 10 minutes after I put the girls to bed to do a quick tidy up around the apartment, clear surfaces, put things in their place & ditch random things we don’t need (it also helps to distract me if the girls are fussing). I also set aside time once every season to do a deeper-declutter of clothes, toys, books and things around the house we’re no longer using. It almost always feels draining when i’m doing it (and in the lead up especially) but i always love our home more once we’ve made the drop-off run to the charity store.
2. Single Task. Organise your time so you can focus on one task at a time. Frequent task-switching requires lots of little decisions and leaves us feeling drained and anxious. Remaining focused on the task at hand sounds simple but it’s not easy (our brains have a novelty bias). The benefits however are HUGE and I’ve found even just noticing that my brain is wanting to latch on to something else, is enough to bring me back to my current task. I’m still struggling however with how to apply this when I’m at home on my own with two young children both needing/wanting my attention simultaneously…
3. Break tasks down into meaningful and doable chunks. Especially for tasks I have a mental block about, making a tiny first step can really help. For example if I’ve been dreading making a call, i will make my first tiny task locating and writing down the phone number. Often once that’s done, making the call seems less stressful somehow.
4. Batch Tasks. e.g. pay all your bills at one time, or make four phone calls in one chunk of time. For the last couple of years I’ve been ‘batching’ my errands/tasks/calls (making appointments, paying bills, responding to flagged emails etc), to Wednesdays. It gives me a sense of freedom the rest of the week and because i know Wednesday is my ‘logistics day’ i can tackle them all in chunks and end the day with a sense of achievement.
5. Remove/ignore distractions for a specified time. Turn off your phone, shut down your email, ignore the household tasks. Sounds easy but it’s definitely not.
6. Separate planning and doing. They require separate parts of the brain. Planning requires big picture thinking and doing requires detail orientation. I love this tip! I now dedicate certain chunks of each day just to planning (which I love!) but/and then also need to be disciplined about the doing part.
7. Sleep! An enormous amount of cognitive processing occurs while we sleep. If we have struggled with a problem while we are awake, sleep can actually help us to solve it. I try to remind myself of this when i’m feeling indecisive about something important. Unless i really have to complete it that day, i will make a note of it somewhere (so i don’t forget) and then sleep on it. On many, many occasions I’ve woken up with a solution i hadn’t thought of the day before.
8. Create systems for getting things done. Find a system that works for you and follow it. There’s almost never one perfect way of doing something. Having a system that you are comfortable with and actually following through with it is pretty much the key to getting things done. Looking at how systems that work in certain areas of your life could be applied to other areas, or thinking back to systems that worked for you in the past are a great place to start.
9. Learn to use a 4-Fold table for important decisions, including medical decisions. For example a disease affects 1/10,000 people. There is a test but false positives are generated 2% of the time. Using a four-fold table tells you that even with a positive test there is only a 1/200 chance that you have the disease (i.e. a 99.51% chance that you don’t have it) so you would want to be very mindful of any side effects of treatment you are offered.
10. Prioritise relationships and set reminders to stay in touch. Feeling that we are valued for who we are is an innate part of being human. Any tools we can use that help us build and maintain strong relationships will be key to our long term happiness. One strategy working for me at the moment is having a specific time each week when i call friends or family back in Australia. My week now doesn’t feel complete if i miss it.