There are times when I am mentally overloaded: I have so much on my mind that I can’t seem to focus on what’s right in front of me. It’s at these times that I have the attention span of a gnat, and the most innocent and reasonable request from one of my children threatens to send me over the edge.
These times often come at the beginning of the school year, when my job gears up again, when we’re home from vacation and transition into work mode. I also tend to feel this way when I have a big decision hanging over my head, or when a deadline is looming just around the corner. You too? Here are some practical ways we can clear our mental clutter and walk forward with more peace.
Guard your white space
Schedule in time where you have nothing going on. Carve out one day a week as a “family day” where you have no obligations and no plans. Be lazy around the house. Or be spontaneous at the last minute and take an impromptu picnic together. But the key is to keep that day free for whatever you feel like doing. Not only does this encourage rest as a regular practice, it gives you something to look forward to!
Learn to say no
Determine what is important to you in your current stage of life, and be vigilant about saying no to the things that don’t matter so that you can say yes to the things that do. This is hard for a recovering people pleaser like myself, but I am learning the value in saying no. The first step in setting these boundaries around your time is identifying what IS important to you, and naming the areas in which you want to invest your time. Then, when opportunities or requests pop up, you can evaluate whether they align with your values and priorities during your current season of life and respond accordingly.
Become a digital minimalist
Turn off all the notifications on your phone. Remove the mindless apps from your phone. I had to hear this advice multiple times before finally trying it, and I was amazed at how effective it was! I was able to focus more on the task at hand without constant digital interruptions sending me into multiple different directions at once. Now I have boundaries about when I’m active on social media, and even when I check my email – and it’s often on my desktop! It turns out, I’m not as important as I think I am: I don’t need to be available to everyone at all times.
In the morning or in the evening before, grab a piece of paper and dump your entire to-do list for that day: write down everything that’s swirling around inside your head that you feel needs your immediate attention. (The list may be comically long.) Now circle three things you’re going to tackle that day. Just three. Be ruthless in determining which tasks can wait until later without your household (or your sanity) falling apart. Now take those three tasks and write them somewhere visible in your home. Stick the abbreviated list to the fridge, or keep that three-item checklist on your phone.
At the end of the day, make sure you have checked off all three tasks. If you didn’t get to anything else on that list, OH WELL. You are not a failure, my friend. You have just won the day by focusing on your most important things!
Abide in Him
This may be the most important step of all. John 15: 9 says “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Abiding is accepting, resting, and staying connected to the Love of our Father. It’s not a checklist, nor is it a way to spiritually hustle. It is intentionally spending time with God each day.
When I begin the day with God’s Word, with silence, with a grounding sense of his love for me, then I find it’s easier to bring those things with me throughout the day, and it’s harder for me to locate them if I didn’t pause with them at the start. – Shauna Niequist, Savor
If you are in a season where it’s not possible to get a few minutes of quiet each morning (ahem, young children), that’s okay! Think about where you can carve out some quiet during the normal rhythm of your day. Is it in your car? Is it walking the dogs? Is folding the laundry? Use that time creatively to speak to and listen to God. Consider listening to scripture in podcast form. My favorite way to do this is with The Slow Word Movement podcast. Rev. Summer Gross takes her listeners through a passage of scripture and guides us to reflect, respond, and rest in its truth.
I hope these suggestions help you clear away your mental clutter so that you can focus on being present in the moment, and go about your everyday with more peace. If you have a strategy that has helped you, please drop it in the comments below!