By Gretchen Reynolds
Science suggests that your brain is one of the best organizational tools out there. But how do you deploy it to de-clutter your life? A coauthor of the book Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time provides some thought-provoking strategies.
1. Tap Into Your Logical Side.
"Disorganization is often driven by anxiety and fear," says Paul Hammerness, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Those feelings are processed in the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain. Rational thinking, on the other hand -- the cornerstone of effective organization -- takes place mostly in the prefrontal cortex. Rev up this area by filling out an expense report or looking over a spreadsheet; you'll be on the road to thinking more logically and tackling tasks more efficiently.
2. Flex Your Memory Muscles.
First thing in the morning, go over the upcoming day's tasks, step by step, in your mind. Making a mental to-do list stimulates your working memory -- the part of your brain that helps you store and use complex information. Focus on completing the items on your list in order. If you're interrupted (say, the phone rings), make a conscious effort to ask yourself if you need to respond -- an action that taps right into your working memory. Once you've reacted (or not), revisit your mental list. The more you use your working memory, the more likely you are to stick to a task, which should ultimately leave you with a greater sense of control.
3. Give Yourself A Break.
"Despite all the brain's impressive hardware, there is a limit to what it can deal with," Hammerness says. Most adults can focus on one task for only about 60 minutes. To make the most of your attention span, stop hourly and walk around; any new action will "reset" your brain and ready it to return to the work at hand.