The following is adapted from Do Breathe: Calm your mind. Find focus. Get stuff done. by Michael Townsend Williams.
Sometimes it can feel like the whole world rests on our shoulders – the weight of pressures, responsibilities and to-do lists feel overwhelming and unmanageable. It’s no wonder we point the finger at the fast-paced, modern-day stresses as the breeder of our anxiety and panic attacks.
The common causes of stress can be anything from financial worry, career, relationship, family, weather, traffic, health, computers, tech… you get the idea. It seems like the whole world is conspiring against us. However, though most of us tend to blame everything else for our stress and anxiety issues, the truth is that we don’t exactly help ourselves either.
How can being organised help combat stress?
We hop from task to task. We say ‘yes’ when we mean to say ‘no’. We can’t find things when we need them. We forget appointments. We get bombarded by pings, dings, beeps and buzzes from our phones, computers, even our dishwashers. We can’t stop checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+… you name it. Although it may seem like life is the one that is out of control, in fact, it’s us.
We may think that this is the way it is and nothing can be done to help because of undiscussed social stigmas in the work place, on the school run, in relationships and so on – “I have to work 14 hours a day because it shows I’m a hard-worker”; “I thrive on chaos in my house”; “Organisation is for boring people, we should stay ‘spontaneous’.” But actually, this kind of thought process and lack of organisation are our downfall.
One of the most powerful life hacks is to master being organised – it is one of the biggest motivators in natural and long-term stress-relief, and also comes with a wide range of health benefits. Our minds are not designed to hold the amount of information that we expect them to cope with. In fact, neuroscientists refer to our ability to hold stuff in our working memory as ‘cognitive load’. When we overdo it, we get ‘information overload’ – we can’t think clearly, make poor decisions, feel stressed and the quality of our breathing drops (1).
Step-by-step plan to become more organised and overcome anxiety
Most of us are brought up in cultures, environments and systems where the emphasis is on results, not on how you get there – from our school years all the way to our chaotic working career lives. Today, our solutions (and temporary respite) seem to mainly come in the form of consumer goods like books, apps and nice stationery to make us feel like we’ve got things under control – like those ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ notebooks, and ‘You Got This’ folders. Alas, the sparkle wears off rather quickly because the only solution to us being disorganised is getting organised!
So if you are reluctantly accepting that it’s you who might need to change, you are on the right track. And it’s not only about doing more – by learning the art of doing you will also discover the art of being, too. The following is a simplified approach that can help you reduce stress through organisation and reap the health and mental wellbeing benefits in many areas of your life such as the work place and at home:
C-A-R-E: Collect - Arrange - Reflect - Execute
1. Collect yourself
You probably have multiple email accounts overflowing with a backlog of unread messages in your inbox, 10s of apps on your phone flashing updates, notifications pinging every few minutes, stacks of documents on your office desk, old receipts piling up in your wallet, thousands of photos you never look at – the list goes on.
Here’s how you can create a simpler way of gathering your stuff in order to become more organised and not feel overwhelmed by the stress of it all:
• Gather all your emails into one inbox
• Have one notebook at work with all of your appointments and to-do lists and calendar
• Use one app on your phone to collect stuff
• Turn off badges and notifications on your phone
• Have one in-tray at home for mail and one in-tray at work
Don’t worry, below are reasons and methods to how you can still keep things as clear and efficient as possible without feeling like you’re ‘not doing enough or don’t have enough’ to manage the different areas of your life. The point is, you don’t need the constant reminder of 1,000 unread emails, 17 missed calls and 23 Facebook alerts. Opt out! Seize back control. You decide where your attention goes. You are in charge.
2. Arrange – Find a system that works for you
It is very common that people fail to maintain being organised thanks to lack of systematic preparation and practicality. For example, with your new email inbox with three different accounts, try colour coding or arrange reference files. The more you follow a more simple process the more it becomes a habit. You won’t need to remember what to do or even think about it – it becomes your way. You’ll see that things will quickly become clearer, both in your outside world and in your mind.
Every day look at your diary, your to-do lists and your email actions folder before you go looking for more work in your inbox. This simple reordering of how you start your day at the computer will put your agenda first.
Every week spend at least an hour having a meeting with yourself. Get your physical and email inboxes clear. Run through your commitments for the next two weeks and give yourself some time to look at the bigger picture and review your goals and project plans. Does anything in your life need rebalancing? Are you working towards something that really matters to you?
Once your mind is clear and your actions are clear you can do what needs to be done with a lot less friction. You don’t need to think twice. You just need to do. Although it can take time to set up, once you have a system in place your work, your mind and your breath will work a lot more smoothly.
When your life and mind are cluttered, so are your stress and anxiety levels. You’ll thank yourself for becoming a more organised person!
Find out more about mindful productivity with Michael Townsend Williams at DoBreathe.com