6 Tips for Your Calendar to Avoid Mental Clutter

  •    John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the productivity app Calendar and advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

After a long day you can’t wait for your head to hit your pillow. You’re think you’re going to sleep like a baby tonight. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. As soon as you lay down your mind starts spinning. Suddenly you’re wide-awake because you have a million things to do.

First, take a deep breath. This is actually a common occurrence for most people -- which means you don’t need to see someone about anxiety. You probably need to clear out some mental clutter.

Mental clutter can come in all shapes and sizes. It could be worrying about your to-do-list, what you need to get done at work, past mistakes, or the future. When not addressed, mental clutter can do some serious damage to you mentally and physically. It drains your energy, affects your productivity, and makes you stressed-out.

The good news? You can use your calendar to avoid mental clutter. And here are 6 tips on how to accomplish this.

1. Dump Your Brain

This is exactly what it sounds like. Just take a pen and jot down everything that’s on your mind in a notebook. Don’t overthink it. Just start writing.

I set aside 10-15 minutes first thing in the morning and before bed doing this. And, I have to admit, it really does the trick because it gets all those thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Because it’s written down you actually feel relaxed because you know you won’t forget about anything important.

Now, here’s where my calendar fits in. I schedule time to come back to this. Usually it’s when I’m taking a break from work like after lunch or even on a weekend afternoon. This way I can start to organize and prioritize all these thoughts so that they can become a reality. From there, I create a list and add them to my calendar.

2. Replace Your Lengthy To-Do-List With a Priority List

After your brain dump you’re probably left with a pretty hefty to-do-list. Don’t get me wrong. To-do-lists can be beneficial in keeping your life in order. The problem is that in order to check everything off your to-do-list you need to keep it lean.

Sit down and focus on your 3-5 most important priorities. Once you have them nailed down you’ll want to create a daily priority list and schedule them into your calendar.

Start with your most important or challenging priority. Ideally, you should block out time first thing in the morning to complete this -- Brian Tracy calls this your frog. This is because most of us have the most energy and focus in the morning. I block out from 9am to noon to “eat that frog.” I take breaks, but this is when my attention is solely dedicated to completing my most challenging work.

I then schedule my other priorities throughout the afternoon.

3. Keep on Top of Your Email

Emails are a blessing and a curse. They’re great for communicating with others and staying up-to-date on news, sales, the status of a project, or just catching-up with a friend.

At the same time, they can hinder your productivity and cause you a lot of grief. Did you respond to a client? Did you clean out your inbox before leaving work? How can you explain a tech issue in an email thread while you’re on vacation.

The solution? Block out specific times to clean up your inbox.

Every morning before I start working I take the time to respond to messages, go through my spam to make sure there isn’t anything important there, create new folders, clean out old ones, and unsubscribe to newsletters that are no longer relevant. This way when I check my inbox throughout the day, usually mid-morning and before I head home, it’s quick and painless.

You can also start looking into some tools like Unroll.me, Astro, SaneBox, or Spark.

4. Create Time for Unconscious Thought

Think about when you’ve had your best ideas. I doubt it was when you were working. It was probably when you were in the shower, doing household chores, walking your dog, or laying in a hammock.

Make it a point to step away from work throughout the day for unconscious thought. I know that sounds easier said than done. But, it’s possible. For example, when I’m eating my frog, I may do that from 9am to 10am and then go for a 20-minute walk outside. I then go back to work for another 50 or 60 minutes.

The reason why this works is because we can only pay attention for so long. We also only have so much mental energy. So when both are exhausted we need some time to recharge the batteries.

Block out time to go for a walk, meditate, clean your workspace, or play with your kids or dog instead of forcing yourself to forcing yourself to move forward.

5. Exercise

Exercise just doesn’t keep your in-shape physically. It also does wonders for you mentally. That’s because physical activity releases endorphins. When triggered, endorphins can reduce stress, ward off anxiety, improve sleep, and boost your self-esteem.

Schedule time for physical activity into your calendar. Again, this could be running, riding a bicycle, dancing, stretching, or going for that walk during breaks from work.

6. Clear the Clutter From Your Calendar

Finally, the only way your calendar can help you avoid mental clutter is by keeping it clutter free itself. You can do this by;

  • Declutter your entire day. This means keeping that to-do-list manageable by focusing on your top 3 priorities for the day. You can set reminders next to each to ensure you won’t neglect them.
  • Question your recurring events. There may be events that no longer fit into your schedule. If so, take them out your calendar.
  • Don’t fill your calendar with minute activities. This is going to just cram your calendar and make it too cluttered and overwhelming.
  • Share your calendar. This will let your colleagues, clients, and family know what you’re up to and where you’re at.
  • Say “yes” to less. In the immortal words of Derek Sivers, If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.” Saying yes to everything just overextends you and makes you even more stressed.
  • Use a scheduling assistant. A tool like Calendar will eliminate those back-and-forth communications when scheduling. It uses machine learning to make smart suggestions on when, where, and which type of meeting you should schedule.