Sometimes your mind is all over the place, and you can’t seem to pinpoint why. You’ve tried all sorts of productivity hacks. You’ve tried approaching relaxation as a skill that requires practice. Still, you’re struggling to stay on top of a nasty case of scatterbrained madness.
It’s a vicious cycle of stress: You’re overwhelmed because too much is going on in your head, but too much is going on in your head for you to start clearing your head. Some people call this feeling scatterbrained, or having cluttered thoughts — I find myself describing it as “my brain is clogged.” It’s like a traffic jam of thoughts.
While something more serious might be going on, like adult ADHD or anxiety, there are plenty of small tips and tricks to make your thoughts more manageable. Here are some strategies to start clearing your mind, so that you can get things done.
Different ways to clear your head
The key to clearing your head is to take small, bite-sized steps at first. The following might seem obvious, but the act of making the choice to organise your thoughts is half the battle.
Transfer your thoughts to paper
This is my go-to, but then again, I’ve been a proponent of writing down every little thing for years now.
We’ve previously touted the benefits of keeping up a journaling habit in general. Putting words around your thoughts can be daunting at first. However, once you commit to the decision to articulate some of the stuff rattling around in your head, you’ll find your thoughts and feelings will be far less jumbled after translating them into writing. Plus, to-do lists become far more actionable when you can see them written out (versus all those tasks floating around willy nilly in your brain).
Write out not just things you need to get done, but also how these responsibilities are making you feel. Get down your pressures, concerns, questions, and ideas. If pen and paper aren’t your thing, there are plenty of journaling apps out there to find what works for you.
Free write and delete
You don’t need to keep a diary-like journal. If you struggle to write out your thoughts, then free yourself of any pressure to write something “readable.” I like to open up a Word document designed to be deleted. I free write with zero worry about spelling, grammar, or any sort of coherence. That means my document often looks like a frantic, nonsensical bulleted list, like this:
- call Dad back
- fix budget !!!!!!!!!!!!
- losing the currency of my youth?
- buy quinoa
It’s cathartic and often pretty revelatory. I call it a “brain dump,” but to be frank, I’m taking pitches for a more appealing name for this practice.
Use an organizational system
This could mean writing things down in a daily planner, filling out a note-taking app of choice, or colour-coding Post-it notes — as long you find a system that works for you. Different tools help take a slew of abstract tasks and make them look concrete and do-able.
Create mini to-do lists
Still overwhelmed after writing all your tasks out? Break them down until you’re faced with utterly manageable tasks. I’m talking things that are mighty simple to cross off. “Open laptop” and “drink a glass of water” level to-do lists are crucial to get yourself in motion. Avoid multitasking here: Your goal is about crossing things off, and then using that sense of accomplishment to motivate you further.
I’m not saying you have to go off the grid, but you know Twitter isn’t helping you clear your head, right? Try out free extensions like StayFocusd and WasteNoTime, or any of these tools to block social sites. Hell, even block your go-to work sites from time to time.
Go on a walk
You might need to designate time to step away from the stress and force your mind to wander. I’m a runner, and it’s my number one tool for clearing my head. I don’t know if I could get anything done if I weren’t able to go on runs, or walks, or drives, or train rides…any activity where I’m moving forward, but I can let my mind go blank. Personally, I like to listen to music during this period, but it might be a good idea to fully unplug and take in your surroundings.
Obvious, but underrated. Try these breathing exercises to help relieve stress.
We all get scatterbrained. The best way to avoid this feeling is to tackle the root cause. You could have too much on your plate, which means that organisation and productivity hacks can only go so far.
Focus on taking care of yourself. Try to approach relaxation as a goal and learn how to structure your downtime. When you take time to unwind, you’ll have a clearer head to organise all your thoughts and finally tackle what needs to get done.