My mind is a messy place. I am curious about so many things. I want to learn so many skills. But I split my time between too many investments. There are so many distractions to indulge in that finding the time or energy to focus on the few essential tasks can be difficult. Like all humans, I want to enjoy myself. But unfortunately there are too many things I enjoy.
Some hard decisions need to be made to clear the necessary space. Space for development of what’s important.
Let’s start with the physical world. I read that a cluttered space clutters the mind. So perhaps the easiest way to clear space is to do it physically first. My office desk was an organized mess. I use “organized” lightly but it had some semblance of order. But paper clips and sticky notes can only go so far when you’re working with 18 ft2 of tabletop. There were bundles of paper, representing my many rolling mini projects and investigations, everywhere. Open binders and technical books stacked on one another. The complexity grows and grows until it is unmanageable. On the bright side, I think I improved my working memory by trying to keep track of all the different documents. (Developing a different work habit so I don’t have so many running projects is another topic altogether. Soon.)
The solution is a better filing system to reduce clutter and cut down on the mental RAM used to keep track of it all. The majority of my work can be organized into seven buckets:
- Unit operation changes (“can we do this?”)
- Incident root cause investigations
- Unit optimization opportunities
- Unit and product monitoring and adjustment
- Procedural reviews
- Process condition reviews
- Special projects
If I have more than five of any of these going at one time, I think I’ve got bigger problems on my hands. I should learn to finish something before starting another. So let’s start with space for five each. I’m not a fan of trays because you have to pull the whole pile every time you try to find a file. That’s a lot of wasted energy. I’ve seen those vertical dividers that can sit on your desk and you can slot bundles into. Kind of like an exposed file cabinet, rotated 90o on your desk. Let’s start with that.
And of course, get in the habit of filing files away when you’re done with them. Leave them in an organized way so you can come back to them in years and remember quickly what you’ve done. Don’t trust memory for small details over that timespan – it’s not going to work.
Let’s move now to the mental world. To clear mental space, space must be cleared from what is occupying your focus. For me, the digital realm is a huge time sink. Some of it totally useless which can be cut easily without remorse; but most of it is semi-useful. To me, semi-useful is the biggest trap. It makes you feel like you’re being productive: learning something “interesting”, loosely developing some skill, getting better at that unique app that doesn’t translate to anything else. It’s fun to feel like you’re getting better at something but ultimately it distracts from what you really want to focus on. I spend the majority of digital time on my phone. I would say text takes up 25% of my time on it, apps 75%. I’m not cutting my friends out of my life (though delaying responses by a few more minutes is worth some discussion) so it’s time to give my apps an audit.
Here are the four apps I am committing to curtail from my phone:
- Youtube – it’s great learning about philosophy and from TED-Ed but limit them to one or two a day. Too many leads to little retention anyway.
- Instagram – memes are great but I can probably cut these down by 75%
- Facebook – keep updated with group posts but don’t go down the continuous rabit hole of posts
- Supercell games (Clash Royale, Brawl Stars) – these guys know how to make a good game. They’ve got the recipe down and the games are fun. But now isn’t the time to get good at them.
Take these steps and see how much space you get back. Maybe it’s not as much as you thought or perhaps it’s more. But either way there will be space to do what you will. Keep some for decompression and mental health. But devote most to focusing on the few important things.