We usually define our work life through two parameters – our productivity, and our performance. We want to work smarter, and not harder. What underpins all these markers? Our ability to organize. Not just our time, but our desktops, emails, and what not. But is there a right way to get organized, such that we can be productive?

Let neuroscience lead the way for you. Studies show that a mess causes stress. When our minds are bombarded with stimuli, they overwork to focus on things that aren’t necessary. This prevents us from relaxing, both physically and mentally. Hence, we are anxious, and even guilty, or embarrassed. Here’s how we can manage our brain’s overdrive:

Reduce the visual noise in your line of sight. Whether it is a scatter of post-it notes around your desk, a computer desktop chock full of icons, or just your work desk spilling over with papers and stationery – it all impacts the degree to which you can focus on your task. Why? Because clutter or visual disorganization fragments your brain’s attention.

Thus, either do away with clutter, or group it. A 2011 functional MRI study by neuroscientists Stephanie McMains and Sabine Kastner, found that arranging similar bits of visual clutter next to each other made them less distracting. For example, keeping all papers in one stack/ folder, instead of multiple places.

Restrict your dose of digital dopamine. Clutter is not necessarily just physical. Things we can touch or sense can create clutter too. Think spam emails, texts, a barrage of negative thoughts, social media notifications, etc. All these compete for our attention and add to the feeling of being overwhelmed.

A 2015 Florida State University study found that when our phone buzzes with a text or call, it significantly distracts us even if we ignore it. The researchers called or texted college students in the middle of a task, and found that the students made 25% more errors, than when they did not interact with their phones.

The best way to manage this – chunk your digital time. Create pockets in the day when you access your notifications. Though a digital ping is over quickly, it activates your mind and thus captures your attention. Another less spoken of strategy – streamline what you want to access. Unfollow pages/ people that don’t energize you. Choose the information you want to see, and cut the overload.

Don’t over-organize. In our pursuit of productivity, most of us fall prey to over-organizing – color coding our calendars, creating multiple categories for emails, sticking strictly to a schedule that’s already made. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, this degree of granularity stretches the capacity of our memory. He suggests that if something feels uncategorizable, keep it under miscellaneous. Keep things simple.

Though these ideas have been around for a while, as the overwhelm of our digital lives and work demands increases, the practices get lost. What are your go-to strategies for organizing your time/ resources? Share them with us.

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