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Clearing Out the Mental Clutter

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Clearing Out the Mental ClutterSimply put, clutter is stuck energy. It’s a clog in our mental piping that prevents us from working, communicating and acting as effectively as we could. There are more than enough mental-clearing techniques to help us relax and refocus, but these don’t address the ways in which we rebuild the same cluttered mind every day. Here are just a few instances where mental clutter may be messing with your psyche and some easily implemented fixes to help you start moving forward.

Clean out your email inbox…every single day – Take a moment and click over to your email. What does your inbox look like right now? If this is the beginning or middle of the work day for you, chances are you’ve accumulated quite a few messages. That’s normal. But how many of these messages were rolled over from the last work day? Some of these messages may even be from several days or weeks ago. If so, you’ve unknowingly been creating your own landfill of emails which might be making for a pretty unpleasant work environment. The fix? Clear the inbox clutter by treating it like a to-do list. Any email that comes in should be read and prioritized before the day’s end. Some emails are a quick response and easily taken care of. Others will require some time or further action before it can be considered ready to archive. For these types of message – utilize folders! I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t take advantage of the folder organization Outlook and Gmail provides. Label them with titles most applicable for the messages you commonly deal with and the actions they require. With these messages organized, you’ll never risk them “disappearing” under the heap of emails that build up over a week’s or month’s time. Since starting this practice myself, I’ve been much more aware of the messages requiring my response at any given time, know where to find them when I need them and have all but eliminated the dreaded “I don’t think I ever saw that email” moment.

Remove mental clutter by removing physical clutter – I’m not sure when this began for me, but to this day if I’m in a messy environment, I can’t work as effectively. I need to have a clear space which translates to a clear mind. In the midst of a project or a busy day, it’s completely acceptable to have some small mountains of paper fill your desk, but by the day’s end be sure these mountains aren’t left for you to climb over the next morning. If you tackle your physical clutter every day, each new day will begin with a clear desk and a clear mind.

Capture your thoughts in writing – In a world surrounded by cutting-edge technology, you may be surprised to know that we’re still allowed to be human. By this I mean we aren’t expected to commit every task, appointment, phone conversation or change in plans to memory. The times in which I have a lot of mental notes to remember are among the times when my mind feels the most cluttered and least productive. So write it down! Whether this is a pen and paper to-do list, phone app, word document or calendar reminder, capture your thoughts however best fits your lifestyle. It’s simple…the more you put in writing, the less that’s on your mind.

Eliminate unnecessary noise – When I first began running Bennis Inc I would often keep a television set or music on for “background noise.” It’s not so much that I would become distracted by the show on TV or the artist singing the song, but I would become distracted (and irritated) simply by the noise. It was competing with my inner thoughts and making me work harder to concentrate on the task at hand. The silliest part is that I was self-inflicting this irritation and audio clutter. I now recognize that I prefer to work in as close to a silent environment as possible. Some days this can even be setting the phone to vibrate and turning off email alerts. I don’t doubt that some people may work better with a little bit of background noise, but I urge you to try at least one day “working silent” to be sure you’ve given this option a fair shot. It’s not boring when your thoughts really get on a roll!

Address what’s really fogging your mind – If you’ve made your best effort to eliminate all of the mental clutter by following the steps listed above, but you’re still feeling fuzzy and unfocused, there’s a good chance there’s something else in play. What’s really fogging your mind? Mental blocks can come from feelings we’re harboring about a relationship problem, financial stress, or recent negative experience. These aren’t just clutter; these are actual issues that should be dealt with fully. If a personal situation has you distracted in other areas of life, you can’t bury it deeper and hope it will go away. The best thing to do to resolve this completely is to talk it out, go for a run to clear your head or seek a solution if one is possible. Once this major mental plug is removed, you can return to addressing the rest of the minor clutter rolling around.

Whether your mind is cluttered or organized right now, share with us some of your struggles or secrets to achieving a clear mind!

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

I have shared the numerous differences between my husband and me. Though we are both passionate entrepreneurs and collaborate on many different levels, one area of our lives where we often run into conflict is over clutter.

I am the antithesis of clutter. It makes me anxious and unsettled when I am in a disorganized environment. Because I work from home, it’s imperative that we keep our house tidy so I can function at my peak level of efficiency. Even with small children in the house, organization is a daily routine that works for us. However, as my husband recently came into quite a few boxes of “storage” from his childhood home, we both struggled to find common ground as to what should be kept and what should be let go.

Though it required a couple tough conversations and some stress, particularly on my husband’s emotions, we ultimately came to an agreement. What we both learned from the experience is that there are a clear set of questions you have to ask yourself when addressing clutter. Also, everyone involved has to stick to the same standards.

Whether you’re the clutter bug in your family or the exterminator, consider these five questions the next time you’re faced with the dilemma of save or scrap.

Is it serving an immediate purpose?
We live in a culture that urges us to buy in bulk and store things away for a future time when we just might need it. Having excess is a security blanket that can also smother us if we are not careful. If something has no immediate purpose to us (i.e. will be likely used in the next 12 months – which is generous), why should it take up space in our home and in our lives?

If we can’t reasonably say we will use something within the next year, there’s simply no need to have it. There will be plenty of opportunities to find another one, should we need it. But I’m willing to bet that in 12 months you will have forgotten about this object altogether.

How does its current use bring you satisfaction?

This next question is important because it will likely address your concern about the first question. “What if it’s a collectible or irreplaceable?” First, rarely is something in life both irreplaceable and truly needed. Next, even the most valuable collectibles are merely dust collectors if they’re stowed away in storage, never to be seen or enjoyed.

Challenge yourself by asking “How is this object, as currently used, bringing me satisfaction?” Clutter in an attic does not constitute satisfaction. If it’s in storage because you don’t have a place for it in your home, you may want to carefully consider this next question…

Could someone else benefit more from having it?

If you struggle to get rid of something because you believe it has value, remember that selling or donating the item is a great way to pass its value on to someone else. Really, it’s pretty greedy to keep a collection of books packed away in storage because you enjoyed reading them once. Why not share the joy by passing them on to a friend?

Letting go of clutter gets a whole lot easier – and enjoyable – when you feel like you’re doing a good deed. Whether it’s clothes, a piece of furniture or a baseball card collection, think about how someone else might enjoy the use of this item far more than the “joy” it’s bringing you sitting in your basement.

Is the cost to replace it cheaper than the “cost” to keep it?

If there’s one area where even I struggle with clutter, it’s over the effort to save money. We tend to hold onto something because we believe we might one day need it. My husband and I both came to the agreement that if the cost to replace an item is cheaper than the “cost” (meaning the stress, clutter and risk of it getting damaged or going bad) to replace it in the future, then it’s got to go! I can’t tell you how many times this question has helped me to let go of something I never needed again – mostly because I can’t even remember what these items were!

Are you holding onto it for someone or something else?

Finally, this question hones in on the deep, emotional aspect of clutter. We tend to hold onto something not just for ourselves, but for someone or something else. In my husband’s case, many of his items from his childhood were emotionally connected to his father, who passed away. I don’t discount how hard it would be to let go of items that brought back good memories or someone who is no longer with you.

However, after an open and honest conversation about some of these items, my husband found closure with passing them on to family and friends who would appreciate and use them. Items that represent the past can hold you back from fully enjoying your present. Ask yourself why you really want to hang on to an object. If it’s in an effort to directly or indirectly keep a person “alive” in your life, remember that objects don’t accomplish that – but memories do. Getting rid of clutter doesn’t mean giving up the memories. In fact, with less physical clutter, you’re freeing up space for memories, both old and new, to fill its place.

Do you struggle with decluttering your life? What are your biggest hang ups? Share your obstacles and how you plan to overcome them in 2016 by commenting below!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The 80/20 Principle: How to identify the clutter in your life and business

After hearing frequent references to the book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” I finally decided to put my assumptions aside and pick up a copy. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. The title of the book sounded just as cheesy and unstable as a pyramid scheme and I feared for what our “get rich quick” culture was buying into now. I wanted to be wrong about the book – and so far I can say that I was. While my reading has only progressed to page 139, I have already stumbled upon a few intriguing thoughts of author Timothy Ferriss. The most shocking realization is that he and I share a similar personality type and view on effectiveness in both work and play. I could spend weeks’ worth of blog posts regurgitating what I’ve read so far because it’s what I would tell (and have told) those who contact me for entrepreneurial advice. But instead, I want to share just one principle from the book which I’ve found to be the most thought provoking for my own business and life – The 80/20 Principle.

peapodThe 80/20 Principle or The Pareto Principle is by no means new. In fact, it was concocted by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who lived from 1848 to 1923. The boiled down back story is that through mathematical formula Pareto discovered that 80% of the wealth and income was produced and possessed by 20% of the population. And this application goes far beyond economics or distribution of wealth. Supposedly 80% of Pareto’s garden peas were produced by 20% of the pea pods he had planted. Since we don’t all grow peas, here are a few more relatable examples from the book:

  • 80% of the consequences flow from 20% of the causes.
  • 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort and time.
  • 80% of company profits come from 20% of the products and customers.
  • 80% of all stock market gains are realized by 20% of the investors and 20% of an individual portfolio.

At first glance I found this theory to be merely intriguing, but at further thought I realized it to be scarily accurate about my own life. The numbers 80 and 20 are the minimum ratio, but you too might find that some aspects of your life are more like 90/10, 95/5 or even 99/1. This concept made me take a critical look at my business and personal life. As I applied Pareto’s Principle, I had to answer some tough questions about clutter, time wasters and frustrations that were holding me back.

Applying 80/20 to Work – Nearly all businesses have more than one revenue stream. This could be a collection of different clients, projects, services and products. As a nurturing business owner, we naturally want to see all of these streams grow with equal strength. The tough realization is that this just isn’t always possible. So I had to ask myself, “Which 20% of my work and clients are resulting in 80% of my profits?” After crunching the numbers, I found that my ratio was even more skewed than 80/20. I don’t think this is necessarily good or bad, it’s just a realization of which you must be aware. Identifying the clients that account for the majority of my income helped me to also identify the qualities they have in common. I now have a clear understanding of my “ideal” client that I can market my services toward most heavily in the future. These are the ones I’m best suited to serve and the ones that will contribute most significantly to my bottom line. So long as my bandwidth allows, I will still continue to work with all clients (regardless of whether they fall into the “ideal” category or not); however, it’s infinitely helpful to know who I should be actively seeking when I’m in a cycle of business growth.

Applying 80/20 to Life – The Pareto Principle easily lends itself for application to economics or business, but what about personal life? To do this, I had to change the question I was asking myself. Instead of using money or clients as the measurements, I used happiness and stress. Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my stress? And which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my happiness? I examined all the ways in which I use my free time. This includes hobbies, friendships, exercise/health, relaxation, etc. This principle helped me to personally identify the things that give me the most joy and the things that I could stand to eliminate. In doing so, I immediately reduced some of the stressors and time wasters in my every day. I even found areas within my budget where I could save money as the result of these eliminations.

We have just enough time each day to get done everything we need and want to do. We just have to learn how to identify which few inputs produce the greatest results for our time and energy. The 80/20 Principle doesn’t deter me from adding new things to my life, but it does make me regularly evaluate everything I have going on, prioritize the things that bring me happiness or fulfillment and eliminate the rest. Evaluate, prioritize and eliminate – this is the cycle that will help me to work smarter, not harder and to keep all aspects of my life uncluttered.

I look forward to continuing “The 4-Hour Workweek” with less skepticism than when I started. Even if my end goal isn’t working just four hours (and I’m not sure it is), I’m energized to read the ramblings of someone with whom I can relate. It’s encouraging to know there’s someone else out there who has ventured down a similar road and has lived to write intelligently about it…

 
16 Comments

Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Clearing Out The Mental Clutter

mental clutter imageSimply put, clutter is stuck energy. It’s a clog in our mental piping that prevents us from working, communicating and acting as effectively as we could. There are more than enough mental-clearing techniques to help us relax and refocus, but these don’t address the ways in which we rebuild the same cluttered mind every day. Here are just instances in which mental clutter may be messing with your psyche and some easily implemented fixes to help you start moving forward.

Clean out your email inbox…every single day – Take a moment and click over to your email. What does your inbox look like right now? If this is the beginning or middle of the work day for you, chances are you’ve accumulated quite a few messages. That’s normal. But how many of these messages were rolled over from the last work day? Some of these messages may even be from several days or weeks ago. If so, you’ve unknowingly been creating your own landfill of emails which might be making for a pretty unpleasant work environment. The fix? Clear the inbox clutter by treating it like a to-do list. Any email that comes in should be read and prioritized before the day’s end. Some emails are a quick response and easily taken care of. Others will require some time or further action before it can be considered ready to archive. For these types of message – utilize folders! I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t take advantage of the folder organization Outlook and Gmail provides. Label them with titles most applicable for the messages you commonly deal with and the actions they require. With these messages organized, you’ll never risk them “disappearing” under the heap of emails that build up over a week’s or month’s time. Since starting this practice myself, I’ve been much more aware of the messages requiring my response at any given time, know where to find them when I need them and have all but eliminated the dreaded “I don’t think I ever saw that email” moment.

Remove mental clutter by removing physical clutter – I’m not sure when this began for me, but to this day if I’m in a messy environment, I can’t work as effectively. I need to have a clear space which translates to a clear mind. In the midst of a project or a busy day, it’s completely acceptable to have some small mountains of paper fill your desk, but by the day’s end be sure these mountains aren’t left for you to climb over the next morning. If you tackle your physical clutter every day, each new day will begin with a clear desk and a clear mind.

Capture your thoughts in writing – In a world surrounded by cutting-edge technology, you may be surprised to know that we’re still allowed to be human. By this I mean we aren’t expected to commit every task, appointment, phone conversation or change in plans to memory. The times in which I have a lot of mental notes to remember are among the times when my mind feels the most cluttered and least productive. So write it down! Whether this is a pen and paper to-do list, phone app, word document or calendar reminder, capture your thoughts however best fits your lifestyle. It’s simple…the more you put in writing, the less that’s on your mind.

Eliminate unnecessary noise – When I first began running Bennis Inc I would often keep a television set or music on for “background noise.” It’s not so much that I would become distracted by the show on TV or the artist singing the song, but I would become distracted (and irritated) simply by the noise. It was competing with my inner thoughts and making me work harder to concentrate on the task at hand. The silliest part is that I was self-inflicting this irritation and audio clutter. I now recognize that I prefer to work in as close to a silent environment as possible. Some days this can even be setting the phone to vibrate and turning off email alerts. I don’t doubt that some people may work better with a little bit of background noise, but I urge you to try at least one day “working silent” to be sure you’ve given this option a fair shot. It’s not boring when your thoughts really get on a roll!

Address what’s really fogging your mind – If you’ve made your best effort to eliminate all of the mental clutter by following the steps listed above, but you’re still feeling fuzzy and unfocused, there’s a good chance there’s something else in play. What’s really fogging your mind? Mental blocks can come from feelings we’re harboring about a relationship problem, financial stress, or recent negative experience. These aren’t just clutter; these are actual issues that should be dealt with fully. If a personal situation has you distracted in other areas of life, you can’t bury it deeper and hope it will go away. The best thing to do to resolve this completely is to talk it out, go for a run to clear your head or seek a solution if one is possible. Once this major mental plug is removed, you can return to addressing the rest of the minor clutter rolling around.

Whether your mind is cluttered or organized right now, share with us some of your struggles or secrets to achieving a clear mind!

 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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