October 27, 2022

When Tangled Thoughts Won't Let You Focus

Are there times when you just can't focus on your work, even when you've successfully avoided distractions? It feels like your mind is too full, and the thoughts are all tangled. Sometimes it feels like you're suffocating, and you just want a deep breath.

That might be exactly what you need. Here are three things you can do to give your mind space to breathe.

1. Write down your thoughts

The goal is to clear the mind. Transfer all those thoughts on a piece of paper. Or your favorite note-taking app. Then, look at what you've written. Can you spot sources of anxiety? Is it full of worries? Tasks and open projects?

For those things you cannot do anything about, find peace in that fact. Accept them.

For those things you can do something about, add them to your master to-do list (the list that you always look at). You don't have to know how to solve them right now; you can simply write, "Figure out how to fix [problem]."

You're only removing them from your mind and making sure that you don't miss them in the future. That way, your mind knows that those concerns won't be forgotten even when you stop thinking about them at present.

Sometimes, we hold onto thoughts because we fear that we'll forget them. Adding them to a trusted system (like your to-do list or calendar) addresses that concern and frees up mental space. I learned this concept from David Allen's book, Getting Things Done.

2. Tidy up your space

I believe that a tidy workspace can help us think clearer. Unnecessary things on your desk are additional things that occupy your mind. You may not pay attention to them, but they're still within sight.

Anything that's not work-related does not belong in your workspace. And as much as possible, keep gadgets, stationery, and other supplies inside drawers, out of sight. And hide those cables.

Back in college, when I'm at home and I needed to study but I can't seem to understand what I'm reading, or when I can't review for exams properly, I go upstairs where we have a huge room. I place a desk right in the middle, with nothing else on it but my book, other reading materials, highlighter, pen, and writing pad.

I found out that I like big desks and big rooms. I feel like my mind expands with all that space. Able to breathe, open to absorbing information, and clear of other messy thoughts.

You can do this outside of your workspace too. In your home, go from room to room and do the same thing: remove things that don't belong in that space, hide stuff as much as possible (place them in their dedicated storage places), and clear the surfaces.

3. Be with nature

Go outside. A garden, preferably. Take in the calming greens and breathe in the fresh air. I find it refreshing, as if the air I breathe goes directly to the mind and pushes away the heavy clouds.

Spend a few minutes there just taking deep breaths. Feel your breath. Listen to your breath. It calms both the mind and the heart. And sometimes, that's all you need.