Feeling overwhelmed at work or home? Try minimalism
Princeton University studied the effects of clutter in home and work lives.
Based on findings from their report “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex”, researchers found that in a cluttered environment, your brain must multitask and work overtime because the chaos is distracting and prevents you from processing information as well as you would in an organized and calm environment.
The researchers used fMRI to map the brain’s responses and task performance when interacting with organized and disorganized stimuli. The study found those who purged the unnecessary from home and work spaces were less irritable, paid more attention to detail, had higher levels of productivity and were able to process information faster.
“The human mind does not do well when it needs to multi-task, and a cluttered environment, whether you realize it or not, automatically causes your mind to multi-task,” says Dr. Sachin Kapur, a neurologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “When this happens, our brain loses focus on the task at hand, whether that be a work assignment or spending quality time with your family.”
If you want to concentrate on something and not be distracted by piles of paper, dirty dishes and other reminders of unfinished tasks, you may want to adopt a minimalist approach to your home and workspace – within your environment as a whole and in the way you tackle your to-dos.
- Straight away – get rid of that clutter. If it’s not essential to your daily work, then either let it go, file it or put it in a drawer.
- Focus on one project at a time, and put items to the side that aren’t related to the task at hand.
- When done with a project, spend the time to straighten up and put or file everything away.
- Be selective. Every item you bring into your home or workspace (even if it’s “free”) requires your time. You have to maintain it, store it, clean it, look at it and eventually discard it. Even extra apps on your phone and multiple social media channels you follow take your focus away from what you need to accomplish.
- Keep your files up-to-date. When you don’t have a system to store what you need to use and reference, you spend valuable time looking, instead of working. Develop a file system for both your paperwork and your computer documents, so you can find what you need easily.
- Try not to use your email inbox for storage; deal with it and then delete it or file it. Can you get to “inbox zero” at the end of each day?
- Choose tools that help you do your job better. You don’t need every new gadget – technology and tools you don’t use become clutter – but when you find something that will help you do your job or project better and faster – then it’s a worthwhile investment.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”