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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Mental Clutter


Someone once said that clutter is the result of the unwillingness or inability to make a decision. You don’t know where something goes and don’t want to put it in the wrong place (because then you wouldn’t be able to find it later), so you just leave it out in plain sight. You can’t decide where something goes because you don’t have a system, and without a system, you quickly accumulate 50 other things you don’t what to do with, so what was “plain sight” is no longer. Bazinga, you’ve got yourself a clutter monster!

But it is impossible to not put a tangible thing somewhere in physical space, and putting something somewhere is deciding you’ll put it there, even if “there” is the default spot – the counter, the table, the top of the piano, wherever clutter collects in your office/home/car.

It occurs to me that the inability to sustain focused attention for more than five minutes is often the result of mental clutter. You don’t know how to postpone and later reliably recall your own thoughts and information from others that arrives via email, voice mail, text messages, written communications, etc. So you’re constantly shifting your focus from thing to thing the same way you move pieces of paper around in your cluttered office because you don’t know where to file them. You can’t set a thought or message aside because you might forget to pick it back up again.

Lack of focus is the result of either the unwillingness or the inability to make a decision about what to focus your attention on. But just as it’s impossible to not decide where to put something, being unwilling to decide where to focus is a decision about focus. And what’s more important, it’s a decision that makes you unhappy and ineffective. Cut it out. Start making better decisions about what to focus on.

Don’t know how to make better decisions about where to focus? That’s what I’ll talk about in my next post. Until then, try not to make yourself too dizzy running around in circles…

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