The Disciplined Brain (Easy steps and tricks to organize your mind and think straight in the age of information overload)

It’s Monday morning and you’re on your way to work. You stop at a red light, took a sip of your coffee, glance at your watch and you’re relieved that you will get to work just on time. As you clutch your wheel waiting for the red light to turn green, you start to wonder if you locked your front door or if you put out that scented candle before walking out. You try to imagine yourself doing these tasks that morning but you have absolutely no recollection. Paranoia starts creeping in so you make that next U-turn. And that’s it, you know you’re behind schedule.

There’s a million of people out there who experience the same situation almost on a weekly basis. Consequences to some are detrimental, sadly to say.

Recognizing it as an issue is the first big step to change. And it’s probably what lead you to my page. You obviously want to consistently stay in command. In this digital age, most people are intensely preoccupied in overstimulating (we listen to jazz music in the background while watching an episode on Netflix, as we fold the laundry and yet we would still constantly pause to check every time a notification pops up). The information overload is scary; we become distracted by tons of things at once. Why? It’s natural, it’s just how our brain works— it never stops recognizing (wants) the changes around us and it picks up on their relevance.

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It is extremely challenging to attain (even practice) a Zen-like focus and live in the moment. Our mind is constantly busy processing changes along with relevant information we encounter. It’s intimidating how media is now designed to distract us and how it’s continually being developed to lure us; for example, when you open a page of an internet browser—even before you type anything you’re looking for, you see tons of tiled news and they’re there to entice us. We become curious/concerned/interested (or maybe we feel them altogether) that most of the time we don’t restrain ourselves thus we check one article after another. Before you know it , you completely forget what you were there for in the first place (We all tell ourselves that we’ve got time; the 5 minutes we promise ourselves sometimes turn into 5 full hours of mindlessly scrolling).

Time and time again, we would fail to practice exercising our thoughts clearly and accurately; we don’t realize the necessity of decluttering our brain.

We all need to stop ourselves when it’s affecting us in a different (serious) level. This is why I thought of creating this page in the first place, I want to share helpful tips in staying organized and living purposefully— immersing ourselves in activities that are purely intentional and that of which promotes living in the moment. You practice this day by day and you master it.

As you leave this blog you will be equipped enough to consistently be on the driver seat. (Trust me, you would wanna stay there).

(As you read the rest of my content, make sure you clear out all external distractions and give this your full attention) 

Let’s get to it!

Journaling

I have been keeping journals for five years now. I get the same sketchbook each year so I can give it my personal touch and organize it how I want. A lot of ready-made journals that you can pick up from a store have very limited space to write on (I find the daily blocks are usually small and it’s a problem as my handwriting takes so much space!) and they have lists/pages that may not necessarily be applicable to you. (But if this works for you, great! If you are like me who likes adding your personal touch and customizing it based on what’s important to you, sketchbook will really the best fit!)

Tips for starters: Please don't be intimidated! You don't need to be a writer to create one. You can always start with a small pocket notebook where instead, you can work on your day to day entries; noting deadlines, important notes/memos, random thoughts, etc
structuring
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I start it by leaving the first few pages for lists such as ‘Places I travelled’, ‘Books I read’, ‘Accomplishments/Things to be thankful for’. I go back to these pages when I think I need to add items and fill them in as I go along. Following these pages, I will draw the first month of the year, noting each birthday, reminders, deadlines, holidays, etc. Then I will divide the next page into eight, representing first few days (the no. of days will depend on how big/small your journal is). For each day, I would write my to-do list, describe my mood in the morning, plan my day, add memos, notes, etc.

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It is very important to allot a time in a day to do this or else it will be at the corner of your desk collecting dust. It’s ideal to work on your journal early in the day to know the sequence of your priorities and think of important things you still need to get done. And I cannot stress how crucial it is that you work on your journal, consistently.

Journaling will make you feel you are in charge.

I do not prepare the months and days ahead all at once, I start with just the following month and a week; once they’re filled in, I prepare the following week. (It’s a lot of work to do in one sitting and if you attempt to—half-way through it, you might put it aside- never to work on it again).

Journaling acts as a brain dump. With the aid of it, we organize our thoughts, become mindful about our day, become intentional about our actions and most importantly, we free up a good amount of space in our head that we can allot for more important things. When you’re working on something and an idea pops in your head, note it down and you can forget about that idea for a while; now you can focus completely on your work or simply being present enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend. You can let the idea leave your mind and you can get back at it later when you have the time.

Not being mentally present and letting your mind wander while you perform big tasks such as mental work is creating too many tabs open in your head. You overload yourself with random information or internal dialogues such as:

  • “What will I have for dinner? Chicken or Pasta?”
  • “What does my boss think of my work?”
  • “I missed a call from a friend, shall I call her back now?”
  • “When will I plan my next vacation trip?”
  • “Does my life suck?”
  • “What happens if I lose my job”

When we make all these mental notes, most of the time our mind keeps going back to them over and over… and it only stop until they’re satisfied. Being distracted with too much mental clutter can affect your day to day life, your relationships, quality of work: being prone to making mistakes as there’s so many things that can go overlooked when you’re not mentally there.

Overall, we must note the importance of organizing our mind so that we can improve our relationships, work quality, creativity and change our lives for the better.

1. Monthly Calendar

Other than birthdays, memos, holidays, and deadlines, don’t be afraid to also include your financial obligations: when you intend to pay your rent,  credit card,  student loans, each monthly subscription. Mark them on the day before your bills are expected to come out. Not only you would not miss paying your bills but you will also be aware of  how much you’re spending each month. This way, you can check if you’re spending more than you’re supposed to.

2. To-Do Lists 
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It is important that you prepare your daily to-do list ahead (day or week prior). You can include small tasks such as Make the Bed, Eat healthy, Workout, Read for two hours, Meditate, Apply sunscreen, Water/Spray plants, tidying etc. This will make all the tasks in your head which most of the time you procrastinate on— dealt with. This will make your plans intentional and concrete so that as you wake up in the morning, you have a mental image of your list and you can visualize each and every task—you can be assured that you will get them done. It will be so satisfying when you consult on your journal and check each task.

Start building good habits

Creating your daily to-do list  will give you a general idea of the non-negotiable tasks such as making the bed as you get up in the morning, applying sunscreen on before leaving, meditating after your morning workout, clearing the kitchen counter, reading a chapter or two of the book from your nightstand, etc. But you continue to write them in your journal as this will mark in your mind, and it’s easier for you to remember. (This reminds me of the strategy I had back in my college days when I’m preparing for an exam: as I read through the chapter of the book, I would write everything I highlighted on in my notepad, and I would rewrite all that I remember in another notebook and rewrite them again in my cue cards). This is how you build a good, hard-to-break habit.

“I value self-discipline, but creating systems that make it next to impossible  to misbehave is more reliable than self-control” 

Tim Ferris

If you live alone in an apartment, it is important that you create a list of important things to check before leaving such as: did you put out the scented candle and turn off the humidifier? Did you lock your back door? Is the stove off? Any electronic charging? (I usually plug all my electronics to one spot in the morning so there’s only one corner to check) Are all lamps/lights off?, etc. It’s better that you create this list in a notepad or sticky note easily accessible on your table. You can put key words for everything that you need to check. And as you go check each item, make sure that  you are mentally present as you do them (I sometimes say it out aloud as I get them done; if you’re living alone, no one is there to judge 😛 ). Avoid going through your list without being mindful as you will most likely forget that you got it done. It is important to allot 5-10 minutes before leaving to always go through this list, mindfully. This will give you peace of mind and make you enjoy a stress-free day, and you’re already off to a good start.

Morning and evening routine
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For morning routine: if you are like me who wants to take it easy and slow in the morning, adjust your wake-up time so that you can work at your own pace. For example, if your morning routine involves 30 minute workout, 10 minute meditation, a chapter of reading, journaling, tidying up, a little screen time (watching a youtube video, read a blog, etc), you would want to wake up about 3 hours before the time you need to prepare to leave for work. I find that my productivity level and quality of my day depends on the amount of rest I had the night before and my morning activity.

If you wake up with only 30 minutes prior to getting ready to work, you’re rushed, you forget things and overall— you’re not ready to go to work nor do anything (how it feels most of the time). You are most likely to leave your bed undone, your dirty dishes cluttered in your sink; and this builds up the following mornings (admit it: you are not going to deal with it at night assuming you’re already mentally and physically exhausted). Your productivity also suffers; you’re at your office desk wanting for the day to be over.

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For your evening routine: Subject to your field of work, intensity of exhaustion differs. No matter how tired you are, make sure you follow your to-do list along with your non-negotiable tasks.

With your phone Clock settings, set bedtime and wake up time (Iphone has a feature that when it’s set to bedtime, your notifications are temporary off and will be reactivated the following day). 

Do not read work emails (turn off your notifications so you don’t read them outside work) and make sure to unplug from work unless it’s urgent. I cannot stress this enough.

Keep devices away if you can, so your body will switch to a rest mode. Read
a book, listen to an audiobook or a podcast or simply just lay there. Perhaps
go add a note on your journal?

Concentrate, Work undistracted

 

According to researches, you’ll get more tasks done by focusing at one task at time, rather than switching from task to task. Put non-productive activities on hold so you’ll get more things done.

Triggers

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This is not a new trick but very helpful and works all the time: if you need to do it, make it visible. For instance, place your sunscreen beside your facial wash (after drying your face, it’s easy for to reach for it and apply on your face) or keep your book on your nightstand, healthy selections at the top of your shelf, etc. and think of things that you keep putting off such as learning a new skill— take an item related to that skill and put it in your living room. Seeing these items will trigger you to do it as it’s convenient to just reach for it as opposed to placing them behind your shelf, under the bed, in a drawer, etc.

For example, if you do not want to sit in front of the TV for hours and binge, you can put the remote inside a shelf or just put your entire tv in your closet. You get the idea here! 😉

There you have it. Key point is mastering your mind and not allow it to always be preoccupied of internal dialogues, worrying, stressing, constant panicking. You should start using the mind to work for you and treat is a tool. It can be your asset.

Follow these steps and  you will be mostly in control of your life; in no time, you will attain a mental clarity so you can start mapping out your life . Research shows that the common denominator of happiness is to obtain a sense that you are in control and not having anyone to dictate how you should live your life. With this in mind, you create short-term goals to long-term goals, you create a visual timeline on when and how you would like to get them all accomplished.

To add, another common definition of happiness is doing things you want when you want. When do you want to start planning your life? Do you have a clear picture of the person that you want to become? Are you where you have envisioned yourself to be?

I will be discussing work tips in an office setting in my following blog: organizing/dealing with emails, staying productive, meeting all the deadlines, thinking big and completing each task. 

If you find this blog useful, please copy the link and share it with your friends and significant others! (Only takes a few seconds but inspiring someone to work on their systems is impactful).

Do you want to see how my journal looks? Do you want to receive sample printable to-do lists? Do you want to personally write me an email? Do you want to get notified with my next content?

I want to hear from you!

I will be publishing my next blog in a week, see you there!

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