Throughout the day, we’re inundated with phone calls, digital messages, printed messages and other “noise.” Combined with our daily roles and responsibilities, it can be difficult to focus on our top priorities. Even though many of these messages are important, if not managed properly we can categorize them as clutter. There are two different types of clutter, Mental and Visual, both of which can prevent you from being effective, efficient and can ultimately derail you from what’s most important throughout your day.

Mental Clutter

Mental Clutter is the stuff that’s in your head. For some people it’s voices. I can’t be the only one that hears “This is your mother. Don’t forget to call your brother today and wish him a Happy Birthday.” For others, it’s the mental list of the top 10 things that need to be done, remembering to pick-up the dry cleaning and the two parties on the weekend you’ve RSVP’d to. Whatever it is that is in our head, this Mental Clutter will ultimately get in the way of remembering everything that needs to be done and can prevent us from performing at our highest level. Luckily, there are many ways to manage Mental Clutter.

  • Make a List
    As a newly converted user of “all things Google”, I recently switched from Evernote to Google Keep. Both are great apps that I use on my phone to make a list of everything that would usually be in my head. From things I owe my clients to work that needs to be done at my office to what I need to buy at the grocery store, I make a note of everything. Now it’s out of my head, and stored somewhere that won’t overwhelm my thought process.
  • Prioritize
    While everything may seem important, not everything is important TODAY. Typically, only the top third of our to-do list actually needs immediate attention. Full disclosure, this article has been on that list for the past week.
  • Put it on the Calendar
    I use Google Calendar to keep track of all staff meetings, client meetings, personal appointments and family responsibilities. When a client confirms an appointment with me, I immediately send out a meeting request to that client so we both have the date, time and location in our calendars.
  • Delegate
    Not everything on our list needs to be done by us. Take a look at what items you can pass on or share with colleagues. Delegating tasks can help to empower others, while helping us cross items off our list.
  • Automate
    There are many regular tasks that we can automate to save time and improve efficiency. I use a tool called Zapier to automate some of our business process tasks on a regular basis. One example is a “Zap” I’ve created to automatically add contacts from my Google Contacts list to my Mailchimp list every time a new contact is added. By doing this, I don’t have to remember to add people to my email list every time I send out a message or a newsletter. I have another “Zap” that automatically creates a project in Basecamp (our project management software) and creates a Google Drive folder for clients automatically every time I add them into our CRM. This not only saves me time, but it prevents me from forgetting those important steps.
  • Eliminate
    When you’re overwhelmed with things to do, there is no better feeling than crossing items off your list. If you find yourself struggling with some larger tasks, identify a few quick tasks that you can address and eliminate immediately. By crossing those items off our list, we feel an immediate sense of accomplishment.

Visual Clutter

Equally as distracting as Mental Clutter is Visual Clutter. Being visually distracted can disrupt our workflow, and often make us overlook important items. Take a look at your refrigerator. Is it filled with children’s artwork, family photos, invitations from weddings that happened 3 months ago and a flyer for an upcoming event? So what happens to the flyer that has an important upcoming date? It tends to get lost in the shuffle. This is what I call Visual Clutter. Visual Clutter is anything that visually prevents us from focusing on what’s really important or the current task at hand.

I have a simple process I follow throughout the day that helps me to avoid Visual Clutter. When I get to my office in the morning, I take out only the notes and printed materials that I need to address immediate tasks. Throughout the day, other things come up and other items end up on my desk, which I promptly set aside. At the end of every day, I address every item on my desk and only leave the items that will need to be addressed the next morning. The result? Every morning I come into my office with either an empty desk, or a desk with one or two notes in a pile set off to the side. By starting every day “fresh” and without Visual Clutter, I feel energized to start each day and can focus on my most important tasks.

Oh, and about that birthday? It’s in my calendar for April 2. Happy birthday, bro.