Dealing with a Busy Brain
Life in the modern world is busy.
There’s always a lot going on. There’s a constant assault of news and notifications and updates and little red icons all clamouring for your attention.
Often it can feel overwhelming.
Sometimes part of that busy feeling is because we have a lot of things that we’re keeping alive in our brain. Like we’re continually spinning plates or juggling balls. These things are not necessarily enough of an action that we would usually put them on a to-do list, but just stuff that needs doing.
These could be many things, varied in their size and scope, such as doing the laundry, paying a bill, replying to an email, finding that receipt for a tax return, tidying a closet, or charging your phone. Lots of little things, and all of them taking up a little bit of mental energy.
Commonly known as open loops, these things that you’re carrying around in your head can build up to the point where it feels like you’re getting overwhelmed. Your brain feels so busy that it’s hard to concentrate and get anything done.
A somewhat literal loop
Closing Open Loops
So what’s the best way to deal with this? This might sound obvious but the best way to reduce the list is first to make a list.
Write down all of the little things you have to do. Get them out of your brain and on to paper. All of them. As many as you can think of, dump them out of your mind.
Now you have a long list to deal with. If there’s any on there that would take a couple of minutes or less to do, knock them out straight away. Cross them off when they’re done.
For the longer ones, add them to your regular to-do list. Schedule them in or delegate them, if you can. Take half an hour to an hour a day and tackle as many as you can.
Bit by bit you can reduce your number of open loops and feel clearer and lighter.
Try to stay on top of the small things so they don’t build up as much. I know it sounds easier said than done but lists are your friends here.
Similar to open loops, our devices have a nasty habit of making us feel like we’re missing something. This is by design - software companies want you to interact with their products as much as possible for as long as possible.
Being conscious about how you use notifications and the little red number or dot on your phone or tablet can help you deal with feelings of overwhelm.
Go through your phone now. Do you really need to be notified of every email that comes in? Do you have your work email on there, and if so, do you need notifications turned on?
A long time ago I decided to have my work email and chat only on my tablet, and even then sequestered into their own apps with notifications turned off. This way I can decide when I choose to look at them, rather than getting notified about an internal newsletter or something irrelevant at some silly time of night.
Part of the reason why people often feel overwhelmed is that they never actually disconnect from work. Use your notifications as a superpower.
Your time and attention is important - be conscious about how you’re spending it.
What open loops can you close today? Now? Write a list and get cracking…you’ll feel better for it.
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