Is anyone else also obsessed with Marie Kondo and her book/Netflix series on the Japanese art of tidying up? Anyone else instantly dump the contents of her house onto her bed and start folding her clothes in new, upright ways? If you’re like me, you did these things and SO. MUCH. MORE.
But when I started to organize my house, it just showed the chaotic depravity of everything else in my life.
I’ve struggled with anxiety since forever. It’s been mild and left undiagnosed until postpartum depression hit me hard, and my anxiety skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. One of my best ways to cope with anxiety is through organization.
The more organized my house, my kids, my marriage, my schedule, etc. the more at peace I feel. But this is 2019, and it takes an enormous amount of work to keep a house clean and organized when three tiny kids are destroying it all day long, and this mama still needs some amount of rest and productivity with other things.
Because of my anxiety, my thoughts run a million miles a minute and change as rapidly as my 2-year-old’s spectrum of emotion. Not only am I constantly thinking about everything I need to do and events coming up, but I also am replaying every conversation I’ve ever had, all the conversations I need to have, my 4-year-old’s backtalk, and all the new ways I should research discipline methods. At the same time, I’m thinking about how I need to research a new Jambalaya recipe, what should we have for dinner tonight, the 37 things I need to add to my Walmart pickup order, “I NEED TO PICK UP COLTON FROM SCHOOL!” etc.
Can anyone relate to my mental rabbit trails? In all that chaos, things get lost and I drop the ball, over and over and over.
Neuroscientist and best-selling author Daniel Levitin describes this as Task Negative. “This mind wandering mode,” Levitin said in this talk at Google, “turns out to be very different than the mind-engagement mode, because it’s where thoughts that are loosely connected seamlessly flow into one another.” He goes onto say that this is very common in creative people and an important piece in problem solving.
Multitasking is a Myth
Even though Levitin makes me feel a little more validated in my “mind wandering mode,” it still stunts my productivity. It’s a form of multitasking, which Levitin busts as a myth. He writes, “Multitasking does not exist. What is actually happening is sequential tasking … and what you end up with is attention that’s been fractioned into 3-5 second bits.”
When our mind is conditioned to think in these fragmented pieces, our ability to truly focus on any one task lessens and actually hurts our brain. He writes, “attention switching…and decision making deplete the fuel in the brain,” which he explains can lead to foggy thinking and higher stress levels.
I don’t know about you, but I feel stressed a lot, and according to this science, no amount of KonMari organization in my house will help me on this neuro-cellular level. So, what are we to do?
Write It All Down … On Paper
My secret, not that I’m perfect and have this mastered, is to have a planner. A real, paper planner. I am a product of the digital age and love my iCal app and the subsequent notifications on my Apple Watch. However, Levitin confirmed my theory by stating,
“As soon as you put something on paper, your brain no longer needs to keep track of it, and paper is actually better for remembering things than typing it, because of the neuro-circuitry involved in writing something longhand. You end up processing the information more deeply.”
This is an example of a brain-extender; you don’t want to fill up your brain with information that doesn’t need to be there, so you offload wherever possible. If it’s going to rain tomorrow, instead of trying to remember to bring your umbrella, you put it in your car proactively. Need something from the store? Make a list. We do this subconsciously all-day long. But I know I need to do it more. I need to be intentional about extending the daily life and longevity of my brain. So I write everything down in my planner, as I think of it, so my brain can let go of that thought and make room for more important things.
We live in the age of information overload. We are constantly bombarded by useful and useless facts and images and sound-bites. Our brains work harder than ever to process and sort this information, but there are methods we can implement to help offload some of that work.
I have exhaustively searched the better part of the last year for the perfect planner, and I finally found it. At least, I found MY perfect planner (and it’s only $25 on Amazon Prime!). It helps me sort and organize all the relevant information I need to have at hand in a way that’s easy to read and recall when needed. It’s helped me organize my thoughts and organize my time, so I can maximize my productivity by focusing on ONE task at a time and following each through to completion. Which, as a stay-at-home mom, is near impossible when a baby needs to be fed or a diaper changed or sibling rivalry crisis needs to be averted. But I know myself; the second I stop a train of thought or leave a task half-finished, my stress elevates and suddenly my mental task list gets longer than it was to begin with.
8 Practical Tips
But we are all busy moms who “multitask” every minute and are plagued with exhaustion. So what are we to do? Dr. Matthew Edlund gives eight practical tips for brain rest and reset in this article from the Huff Post.
Go for a walk.
Even just a 20-30 minute jaunt can clear the cobwebs and reset your thinking patterns.
It’s no secret that sleep is the key to success. But sleep is essential in forming new neurological connections and processing memories and events of the day.
There’s something to be said about fresh air and sunlight! So when you take a walk outside, the brain takes a metaphorical sigh of relief as you take in the sights and sounds and smells of the outdoors. Need extra brain rest? Take a walk outside!
Do something new.
When you try a new task or learn a new skill, you stretch your brain in new ways. So just as starting a new routine at the gym eventually builds new muscle, so does learning something new for your brain!
Your muscles can’t run without stopping for 8+ hours at a time, so why do we expect our brain to do the same? Take frequent breaks from your work or current activity and use this time to practice active rest, like meditation or deep breathing.
Let your body tell the time.
Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Your body instinctively knows when you need food, water, rest, and more. Learning to listen to those cues will serve you well!
Just as Levitin stated above, multitasking, or what we perceive as multitasking, is detrimental to our productivity and brain function. Focus on one task at a time, and complete it before moving to the next task. If there’s a lot on your list, take 30 minutes or an hour and do as many small, quick tasks as you can before jumping into bigger projects. By starting with a feeling of accomplishment, you’ll have more motivation to get more done!
Enjoy your spouse.
Endorphins aren’t just for exercise! Whether emotional or physical, intimacy with your spouse releases oxytocin which brightens your mood and reduces stress which both have a positive effect on your brain!
Implementing these eight tips and Dr. Levitin’s principles has helped me feel like I’m not constantly behind and always needing to play catch-up. I can view all my upcoming items, events, and tasks and think how to prioritize appropriately, so I can have more time (read: brain energy) to be truly present with my kids and genuinely enjoy my evenings and my life.
So, I’ve learned that before I can let Marie Kondo organize my house, I need to organize my thoughts and my brain. Because once my inner self has a sense of organization of tasks and schedules and thoughts, everything else will fall into its proper place as well.