Journey to an uncluttered mind: my digital Feng Shui system.

I’m a compulsive note-writer and list-maker. There I said it. I end up with bits of writing and lists all over the place; in various notebooks, on scraps of paper, on my notes app on my phone, on my notes app on my macbook (frustrations about how they won’t sync), on Evernote, Wunderlist and Trello — my recent foray into work-related productivity tracking.

I started using Wunderlist in 2012 and dedicated myself to spreading the good word about the great app to everyone I knew. After much cajoling, I got my partner to see the light at the end of the half-hearted mental note, and he started one too. We now share a bunch of lists including a grocery shopping list, a list of things we need to do, buy and fix in our apartment, a list of places we’d like to stay and travel to, and a list of local restaurants we want to try out. It’s may sound hectic, but it’s actually a life-hack.

“I wasn’t kidding about the lists. And that’s before I’ve emailed a bunch of stuff to myself that I absolutely have to see or read at some stage in the undetermined future; the content-sponge in me is relentless.”

I wasn’t kidding about the lists. And that’s before I’ve emailed a bunch of stuff to myself from Twitter or elsewhere (when I’m on my phone or on the go), that I absolutely have to see or read at some stage in the undetermined future; the content-sponge in me is relentless. This is one of the many bad habits responsible for my fragmented mind — because I’m also adding to a runaway inbox, that I regularly and patiently have to exhume.

It can all be a bit overwhelming, like with the lists; when I can’t remember what I wrote where, what’s been done and what I still need to do. It all becomes rather laborious and, ironically, unproductive. The thing that is most obvious; I have a lot of things floating around in my head and I need to ‘get them down’ to appease the clusterfuck in my mind.

Someone recently showed me his Bullet Notebook system — I’ve always wondered what those block notebooks were for! — and suggested I try it after seeing my browser with 15 open tabs (another bad habit I need to lasso) and realising my attention was probably running wildly the same way. It’s creator, Ryder Carroll, has become a bit of a dude for coming up with it:

“Our minds are packed with the clutter of our responsibilities. Endless to-do lists sap our energy and take up mental breathing room.” ~ Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal in his blog post What to Keep; The habit of decluttering your life.

I hear you Ryder. Look, I like the Bullet Journal idea, not only because, it’s analogue, simplistic and genius, but because, I’d never thought to create my own micro-notation system to make sense of the chaos of my too-many-mediums approach. But the block notebook is a bit too spreadsheety for my liking; my mind switches off when I see all those boxes.

So how to eliminate the systematic clutter I’d been unconsciously adding to my life on a daily basis? I needed something to help me pull together all these many forms of, essentially, documentation, and collate them into a system that 1. makes practical sense, 2. takes up less time and 3. allows me a feeling of completion. Because let’s be honest; what all these notes, lists and things are, are incomplete thoughts.

Then I came across the concept of the Commonplace Book, and discovered this is kind of what I had been doing all along, but in a very unstructured way. The article also introduced me to marginalia — it’s a thing. Damn all those parents telling their kids not to write in their books! But with the digital mess I was making, I found I was toting my notebook around everywhere and not actually using it — depriving myself of the most basic of pen-to-paper connections.

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do. ~ Ryan Holiday, How and why to keep a commonplace book

So a couple of months ago I started a Tumblr page to collate all the things I was gathering from a creative-writing and -thinking context and I now plant them all together, as a log of inspiration, erasing them from their now-temporary homes as I go. I’ve whittled the back-log down and drop new finds straight into a post. I carry a smaller notebook with me as my ‘commonplace’ companion, so it’s easier to jot down thoughts and ideas. These make it on to Evernote as and when I use them.

Work stuff lives on in the digital domain for ease and flow; my old faithful, Wunderlist, is my project-lister and syncs everything seamlessly; it’s a great way to track completed tasks. Trello can be the inception of productivty apps — notes within notes within notes — exactly the thing I need to save my brain from dealing with, so I use it more at a surface level, rather than deep-detailing my different client and project board. Another good one is TeuxDeux by creative entrepreneur Tina Ross Eisenberg aka Swiss Miss, which does exactly and simply what is required for project management.

I’m only use my generic notes apps for quick-fixes and temporary notes, so these are mostly (finally synced and) empty now. As part of my digital, let’s call it a Feng Shui programme, rather than detox; I’m implementing a few other rules to govern my new clutter-free system, to create the headspace I need to be at my most productive; truly and creatively free. Let’s just say, it’s a work-in-progress. :)

8 Ways to Digital Feng Shui your life.

1. All open tabs on my mobile phone must be closed at the end of each day; no more sitting draining my data or emailing them to myself, where they gather and cause mass destruction in my personal inbox.

2. All open tabs on my desktop must be closed at the end of the day; lingering links that I absolutely need will be bookmarked to read at a later time when I can peruse (and purge) them. But I’m trying to work with the theory that if I don’t read them right away, I probably won’t.

3. Unsubscribe from all newsletters and mailing lists that are not essential (I initially used Unroll.Me to help me do this but have since disconnected it) and delete mails piling up in my inbox, awaiting some twilight zone in the time-space continuum to allow me the time to read them all.

4. Unfollow all magazine, website and content pages on Facebook — and allow that space to be solely for sharing and receiving updates and stories from my real-life social network, rather than being another space to find content to read (and be advertised to).

5. Follow all these media accounts from Twitter instead and allow this network to be my go-to-place for deep content-sponging. This is where I share this kind of head-spacious stuff I find anyway, so it makes the most sense to find it there too.

6. Remove myself from unnecessary social media and platforms — so far I’ve only been able to eradicate Pinterest [ED: Scratch that, I opened it up again. Damn food blog recipes!]. If Facebook is a basic standard, Twitter and Medium are my happy places. Any ideas of what to toss out next?

7. Delete Content apps from my phone. If I follow them on Twitter, I don’t really need the app as well (Except for Medium — I’d rather wake-up and peek at a top story than mindlessly scroll Facebook or Flipboard).

8. Trust the right content and stories will surface and find me — this is best part really; because somehow the things I need to read just do. And when in doubt, switch-off, log-off and slowly step awaaay from the gadgets. Pick up a real book and relaxxx.

Wish me luck! Watch the clip below to see how the Bullet Journal works.

Thanks for reading. ☺