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3 Strategies For Throwing Out Mental Clutter And Getting Stuff Done Instead

3 Strategies For Throwing Out Mental Clutter And Getting Stuff Done Instead

We all have random to-do items fluttering in the back of our heads, plinking against our minds like moths against a light bulb.

Like when you finally break free to scout out new locations with your camera, but then you see the bank and remember the pile of un-entered business receipts sitting on your desk.  Or you pass the grocery store and remember that you have to clean out the fridge because something is definitely going bad in the veggie drawer.

Sometimes this mental clutter is merely distracting.  We all have it, and we have to persist in creating in the face of it.

But sometimes, unfinished tasks actually induce paralysis.  That cycle goes something like this:

1) You say, resolutely, “I can’t go to the park with my camera until I finish organizing my office.”

2) You don’t really feel like organizing your office, so you sit and look at Facebook instead.

3) Then you’re bummed because you just spent an hour looking at Facebook, having neither gone to the park nor organized your office.

Sound familiar?  Here are three strategies for sweeping out those headspace-thieving little tasks:

Strategy A:  First, make a list of every single thing that you’ve been meaning to do. 

Business related or not.  Whether it be vacuuming under the living room furniture or holding a Skype meeting with the Etsy seller you want to partner with, write it down.

Next, estimate how long each item will take.  (I recommend giving them entertaining names.)

Living Room VacuumFest – 20 minutes, including furniture moving.
Skype MasterPlan Strategy Session – 1 hour, including clearing the clutter in your office beforehand.

After that, pull out your calendar or planner, and start scheduling them in.  If you have 20 minutes on Monday, that’s your vacuum time.  If you have an hour next Thursday, shoot an email to the Etsy seller.  Spread them thinly and be realistic about your energy level and other responsibilities on those days.

Done?  Good, now FORGET about everything that’s not on the current calendar day’s list.  Your ticket to Overwhelmville is to mentally pile on a week’s worth of work into one day.

Today, all you have to do is what’s on your schedule.  Then you can scout sessions to your heart’s content, because there’s an appointed time to take care of everything else.

Strategy B:  Declare an Un-Procrastination Day. 

When your to-do list is long, time to pull out the big guns.

Find one day in the next two weeks and designate it Un-Procrastination Day.

On that day, don’t accept calls, meetings, or avoidable/reschedule-able responsibilities.  Devote the entire workday to taking care of tasks you’ve been putting off, be it writing checks for estimated tax payments, dropping off stuff at Goodwill, refinishing thrift store treasures, or writing thank you notes to colleagues.

Spoiler Alert for Un-Procrastination Days:  You’ll quickly realize that you’ve been worrying about these tasks longer than it actually takes to do any of them.

If the Un-Procrastinated tasks are particularly onerous, make the final item on your to-unprocrastinate-list something fun, like getting a pedicure or spending an hour watching whatever the heck you want on YouTube.  You’ll enjoy it more when you’re sitting atop a pile of conquered tasks.

Strategy C:  Prune.  (No, not the dried fruit.)

Sometimes, you have to let go of good things to make room for the best things.

If you have tasks that just won’t fit on your to-do schedule, time to make the tough choice:  Is this a good thing, or is it the best thing?

If it’s just “good,” let it go.  Or write yourself a permission slip to table it for a few months.

There’s a difference between procrastination and saying “If I do this now, I’ll barely do it just to get it off my plate.  If I put it on the calendar for three weeks from today, I’ll protect that time and have the head space to really work with it.”

You don’t have to abandon ship entirely.  Just give yourself permission to find a free summer morning to shoot that new video for your blog instead of freaking out this week.  Or decide to hire out your image editing (or your housecleaning!) so you can make room for video-making.

And by the way?

There is always a way to hire someone.  Let me say it again:  There is ALWAYS a way.

I truly didn’t think I had it in my budget to hire Suzanne, Psychology for Photographer’s Pen-Pal-In-Chief.  But I did.  And it freed up my time to write and connect and do things that bring in more income.  Sanity restored, productivity soared.  There is always a way.

When you hire someone to handle stuff that’s hogging your time or emotional energy, you may well find that your income goes up instead of down.  Unlike time, money is a renewable resource.  Be sure to spend your budget of time with as much scrutiny as you do your budget of money.

Before you shut out the idea of hiring someone because you think you “can’t afford it,” take twenty minutes and research the actual costs involved.  It might not be what you think.  Send a few exploratory emails.  Ask for quotes.  Consider what could be trimmed or increased to make room in the budget.  The answers may surprise you.

They surprised me.

Overall:  When you’re distracted by a thousand flitting thoughts, grab them and stamp a date on them.

If you can’t do that, then zap them from your list entirely, or hire them out.

Otherwise, they just hinder you from doing what you really want to be doing.  And really, do you want a pile of receipts or an unvacuumed floor to prevent you from changing your world?

Didn’t think so.

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  1. Sabina Lorkin on April 25, 2013 at 6:43 am

    I’m sitting here enjoying my first cup of tea with a slightly sleepy head and I’m so glad I’ve read you post. What an inspiration. Simple ideas that I’m sure will be a help me and many others. I’m going to send a link for this post to my computer in my office and I’m going to reread it when I get there.

    Thank you 🙂

  2. Erika on April 25, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Awesome! I can definitely relate to this problem, so I’ll have to give this a try!!

  3. Miah on May 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    This has been so helpful Jenika! I had really fallen off this spring and gotten discouraged in my business, and this article has changed everything. Thank you for your generosity and encouragement!

  4. Yannis Larios | Greece Wedding Photographer on May 16, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you!
    Absolutely relevant.
    Thank you so much for the helpful stuff.
    Jenika, I am glad that I found your blog!

  5. timmon on May 17, 2013 at 3:34 am

    You’re so right. You need to stay focused, and do what needs to be done first. Planning and pruning is a good strategy too. Thanks for the pointers. A good read.

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