Last year around this time my wife and I did what a lot of people decided to do during quarantine, and that’s house projects. One of the areas we focused on was spring cleaning in our garage. Like many, our garage had become the official storage space for anything that we either couldn’t find a place for in the house or for things that we might use in the future.
So what did our spring cleaning look like? There were three basic steps we took:
In the same way that spring cleaning is beneficial for the organizational “health” of our houses and personal life, a “spring cleaning” of your mind is valuable for your mental health.
Here’s how to do it…
When my wife and I were working in our garage, we didn’t write out everything we had in there but we did look at all of the stuff that filled up our garage and ended up physically touching each one so that it could go into its proper place.
The first step to our mental spring cleaning is to get everything out of your mind. Seriously, take 30 minutes and write out all of the tasks, thoughts, and feelings you’ve been having.
The reason why this is so important is that, as David Allen talks about in his book Getting Things Done, all these thoughts and feelings create open loops in your mind. It’s like tabs on a computer screen. The problem is that these open loops decrease your critical thinking skills and reduce your ability to make good decisions.
Close the loops by writing them down.
As my wife and I were going through each individual item in our garage, we created three piles: keep, trash, and donate.
In the same way, after you have listed out everything (or at least the majority of things on your mind), it’s time to organize your inventory list.
The first pile you need to create is a “No Control” list. As you look at your list ask yourself, “Can I control this?” We spend a lot of time being concerned with things that are out of our control. As David Allen says, “It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. And it only adds to your anxieties.”
Look over your list and move all those items you can’t control to the “No Control” pile. This won’t immediately stop you from dwelling on those things, but this simple act of writing them out and recognizing you can’t control them is a starting point.
The second pile is “Non-Actionable Items.” As you study the remainder of your items, ask yourself, “Is this something I need to do or just want to remember or recall when needed?” The latter could be ideas, birthdays/anniversaries, a favorite recipe, etc. These items need to be stored somewhere. There are many different systems you can use: a physical file cabinet, digital filing systems like Dropbox or Evernote, or even the Notes app on your phone.
The key is to put it in a place where you can easily access the information when you need to. (I write more about organization systems here.)
If you have moved the appropriate items on your inventory list into the first two piles, then the remaining items become your third pile, “Actionable Items.” These are the tasks that you want/need to get done.
After my wife and I categorized all of our items in the garage and saw the things we wanted to keep, we got shelves and organized them. So for you, the next step is to organize and prioritize your “Actionable Items.” Which do you need to do vs. want to do? Are there any deadlines attached? Which tasks are going to provide the most value or impact professionally or personally? Which items are you going to do this next week or this next month?
These questions will help you organize those items into manageable tasks.
It’s important to keep a room organized after it’s been organized. My wife and I have made a commitment to keep our garage somewhat organized. We use the shelves, think through what items are being put in the garage and continue to ask ourselves, “Do we need to keep this, trash it, or donate it?”
Don’t let your mind get full of open loops again and wait until the “spring” to clean it. Do this on a regular basis. For me I keep a note in my phone entitled “Daily Notes.” Every time something comes to my mind I immediately write it down in that note. Then either at the end of the day or end of the week, I review that note and filter what’s in it. Can I control this? Is this actionable? If not, store it. If so, then what priority does it have compared to what else is on my plate.
Remember, you don’t solve the issue of open loops, you continually manage them.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Carve out a few hours to do a spring cleaning of your mind and use these steps:
Step 1: Write down everything (or a majority of things) on your mind.
Step 2: Organize that list into three “piles” or categories: No Control, Non-Actionable Items, and Actionable Items.
Step 3: Maintain your mental organizational system through writing things down immediately and putting them in their proper place.