When you declutter your mind, you free up mental space for your next big idea.
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
There’s no denying that in today’s global economy, creativity gives companies a competitive edge. Creativity fuels new ways of thinking, inspires innovation and can lead to new business ventures.
Just think, there was a time when brick-and-mortar video shops were the best way to deliver entertainment into people’s homes. Some innovative thinking led one company to try an online platform instead. Netflix now dominates the market, Apple is tossing its hat in the ring, and Blockbuster — well, you know how that story ended.
To tap into our creative impulse, however, it’s essential to have a certain level of mental clarity — a state of mind that’s increasingly elusive, with the constant onslaught of information.
From television and podcasts to web surfing and online video streaming, the average American spends more than 10.5 hours per day consuming media. All that input is hurting our capacity for creative work. We have to declutter our minds.
As Srinivas Rao, author of “An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake,” writes:
“Excessive consumption and inflow inhibit creativity, negatively impacts our ability to do deep work and reduces our cumulative output.”
In order to do the kind of work that leads to innovation, it’s essential to figure out how to manage your inflow. Here are some expert-backed strategies that have worked for me.
1. First things first: create some mental space
Every morning, I mute my phone, turn off all notifications and begin the day with morning pages — a stream-of-consciousness writing session, where I spill everything that’s on my mind, no judgment. It oftentimes leads to ideas — a point to add to a presentation or an email that I’ll draft later that day.
More importantly, my morning pages routine helps me to clear out the questions, concerns, worries and pesky little thoughts rummaging around in my head that might otherwise block my creativity.
But don’t just take my word: as Julia Cameron, whose book “The Artist’s Way,” first introduced the idea of morning pages, writes:
“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
Productivity guru Tim Ferriss, also a proponent of morning pages, writes:
“Morning pages don’t need to solve your problems. They simply need to get them out of your head, where they’ll otherwise bounce around all day like a bullet ricocheting inside your skull.”
Morning pages, or a journaling habit any time of day, can make space for your next big idea.
2. Dabble in daydreaming
It seems like every day a new app or hack is released to help us with our focus. True enough, being able to concentrate drives higher quality thinking, not to mention other benefits like emotional regulation and effective leadership.
But as it turns out, it’s important to balance focus time with periods of unfocus, too. Or, as most of us call it, daydreaming.
Aside from giving our brains important restorative time, daydreaming can help us come up with creative solutions. According to research published in the journal Psychological Science, when we let our minds wander, we engage in “creative incubation” — a state when our brains review things in the background and potentially sort out any challenges we’ve been mulling over.
To prime your mind for daydreaming, set aside time for a low key activity, like knitting, gardening, or even walking a familiar route — something that requires minimal attention and allows mental meandering. Think of it as mental recess. Rather than taking in more, we give our brains time on the playground with the input they already have.
3. Create an input scarcity
Remember the old 140-character limit on Twitter? Though some users complained about the limitation, others thought it unleashed a new level of creativity.
As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote in his book “Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind:”
“Embrace your constraints. They are provocative. They are challenging. They wake you up. They make you more creative. They make you better.”
Indeed, studies have shown that scarcity causes people to use their resources more creatively.
If constraints on our resources lead to more innovative thinking, I think the same applies to our info consumption. Imagine you narrowed the scope of information you consume to things that are directly related to problems you’re actively trying to solve. Forced to draw upon that information alone, your thinking would be leaner and clearer. Your solutions would be unclouded by any excess information.
One strategy I’ve found effective for filtering my input is to establish systems and automation whenever possible. That’s what we try to do for JotForm users, too. Rather than having to reinvent the wheel each time they gather valuable data, we offer a way for them to automate their forms, and streamline their workflow, freeing up more mental energy to do more meaningful aspects of their work.
Related: 5 Ways to Declutter Your Busy Day
4. Say ‘no’ to FOMO and yes to decluttering
I’m no stranger to FOMO — fear of missing out. That’s why my Pocket app keeps me apprised on the latest stories from all of the publications I feel compelled to follow.
While I do think it’s important to keep a pulse on your industry’s updates, too much consumption can be counterproductive. The constant refreshing of our email inboxes and Twitter feeds monopolizes our attention and puts a damper on our creativity.
That’s why I practice a digital sabbath at least once a week — a full day during which I put away the devices and switch off all notifications. It always feels a little uncomfortable at first. I get that sudden, panicky feeling that I should be checking something. But after a little while, I forget my worrying, and instead, I enjoy my morning coffee a little more. Rather than hearing the ping of a new message, I listen more carefully to my own thoughts.
Creativity pro Srinivas Rao likewise advocates for going analog. He writes:
“I believe there’s tremendous power to being analog in an increasingly digital world. Some of the best designers in the world don’t turn on their computers for days. Nearly every post I write is written by hand first. When you’re a writer, using pen and paper gives you a chance to truly hear the sound of your own voice.”
In a study published in the Journal of Travel Research, researchers examined how digital-free tourism impacted travelers’ holiday experiences. Participants lost access to technologies such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, the internet, social media and navigation tools and researchers examined their emotional states. They found that after an initial period of anxiety, frustration and withdrawal symptoms, travelers went on to experience increasing levels of acceptance, enjoyment and even liberation.
It takes some getting used to, but disconnecting from technology can lead to more rewarding experiences. We can be more present with ourselves and our surroundings. And as you connect more deeply with your outer and inner worlds, your creativity is bound to increase.