How to Cut The Clutter and Gain More Focus

How to Cut The Clutter and Gain More Focus

The beginning of a new school year is a great time start anew but sometimes it also brings in a little chaos. Parents are hustling to get extra supplies for their kids, the city has an extra bustle to it, and even the park squirrels are busy getting plump. Taking the time to pare down and make space for what is to come can help.

(Fun fact: The word pare comes from the Latin parare, to prepare.)

Clutter distracts our mind

With years of experience dealing with complicated or down-right shocking situations with kids, teachers and parents have mastered multitasking. With long work weeks, children to raise, and bills to pay, we could all use a little more clarity and a little less distraction. You know what I’m talking about – the stack of unread books on your nightstand, the old clothing you keep meaning to donate, and those receipts you thought you could claim on your tax return in 2012.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D’s writes in Psychology Today, “clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.” Among all the things that distract us , clutter is relatively easy to fix, on our desks and in our digital lives. Computers, apps, cloud storage and everything in between are great tools meant to simplify your life; however, if they aren’t managed mindfully, they can also bog you down.

Aside from the more obvious roadblocks of clutter such as not being able to find documents or losing track of meetings, according to Bourg Carter, clutter also fills up the physical and mental space that we need for creative brainstorming and focused problem-solving.

There are three key steps you can take to clear your desk and your mind.

  1. Decide what you really need

Imagine what you would absolutely need if you lived in a 100 sq ft apartment. What can’t you live without? You’d probably keep your smartphone and not those Disney VHS’s from the 80s. Life Hacker’s Alan Henry recommends day dreaming. Sit in the park or in a café (not at home or at work) to write out those essentials objects that you absolutely need.

Not everything can be reduced to its usefulness. Make another list of things with which you have an important emotional attachment. It‘s a good idea to keep that little ceramic pot your niece made for you when she was five if you love it, but not the card from that weird guy that no one knew at your last holiday party.

  1. Sort and purge

Now is the time to sort. Take your time. Go room by room, or inch by inch depending on how wild your desk has grown. Start by dividing your things into four categories: keep, donate, trash, and store. If you’re finding it hard to let go of something, give it a second life by donating it. Henry also suggests digitizing photos, paperwork, books, and music. There are plenty of cloud storage solutions like Google Drive or Dropbox to help you out.

Once you’ve sorted, check back in with that list you imagined earlier. Do you really need the things that weren’t on that first draft? Are you are keeping them because you can’t decide if you need them? Be honest with yourself.

  1. Put things away immediately

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. emphasizes that clutter is also about habit. “When you take something out of its designated space, put it back immediately after you’re finished. Sounds simple, but it actually takes practice and commitment.” Always leave a place better than you found it. We teach this to kindergarteners, but sometimes forget to apply it in our personal work spaces, both digital and physical. You’ll be less stressed and less distracted as a result.


How to Overcome the Organizational Burdens of Teaching

How to Overcome the Organizational Burdens of Teaching



For the great majority of teachers, a 40-hour work week is a laughable concept. Between classroom time, lesson planning, formal assessments and testing, handling behavioural problems, keeping regular contact with parents, and a slew of administrative responsibilities, the average Canadian teacher works 50 to 55 hours per week according to a Canadian Teachers Federation report.

Teachers recognize that their ability to support students directly and to maintain a work-life balance suffers under their need for multitasking. Despite this, educators are a resourceful and idealistic bunch. Some practical organizing and forethought can help ease planning and administrative duties and bring the focus back on kids.




Make back-ups and templates

In lessons and communications with parents, teachers are skillful improvisers. A big part of handling urgent and unexpected situations well comes from having good back-up plans. That includes backed-up files and templates for your handouts and assignments, as well as prepared letters to parents so you can get messages out quickly when needed. Whether you use sites like ClassTrakLiveBinder  or Wufoo, having access to online tools for learning and communication that create a direct link between you, parents, and students can help streamline the process and make creating and sharing learning resources easier.


Create a system to avoid digital chaos

Classrooms and curriculum planning is increasingly a digitized affair which, while nice for trees, can be a source of chaos and stress for some teachers. A digitized classroom makes being organized much simpler, if planned out properly. Make sure your folders and subfolders on your computer are organized in a way that makes sense and allows you to sort and access documents quickly. If you need to be able to access those documents from several devices or places, set up a storage system online in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive. Do not to let yourself fall into the habit of leaving unsorted files to accumulate in your downloads folder or on your desktop. Remember, this applies to the bookmarks on your internet browser, too. That amazing rubric making website won’t save you time if it is buried under an endless collection of articles you hastily bookmarked to read at a less busy time.


Organize your physical environment

You probably don’t have time for the intensive decluttering and purging regimens popular in some life magazines, but organizing the space you work in, much like avoiding digital clutter, will enable you to put away and find what you need quickly at home, on your desk, and in your classroom, and keep your mind clear. You can find some great tips to get started in a post by Whitson Gordon, former editor of Lifehacker, one of the most popular blogs in the world.

The most impactful changes to your classroom will require a challenging and collaborative approach. Designing your classroom around helping your kids engage, communicate, and learn will make your teaching time all the more valuable. Try teaching your students to share the responsibility of keeping the classroom inviting, keeping in mind that unconventional spaces and messiness, within reason, can foster creativity. Creative Calgary teacher, Tracy Evans, uses design thinking and a collaborative approach to create a deskless classroom to help increase student engagement. In her fabulous post about it, she explains: “more than an interior design project, rethinking a learning space is about remaking not only the space, but also the learning that happens there.”

Ask the veterans and technology enthusiasts

Do you have a mentor or colleague who you are comfortable going to for advice? Particularly for new teachers, talking to someone who has made it through the same challenges you are facing can make your multitude of tasks less overwhelming. “Build relationships with reflective, life-long learners to become one” suggests Instructional Coach, Andrew Miller. If you feel out-of-your depths in the face of the technological tools for teachers and students and find them taking more time than they save, get the lowdown from a colleague who loves technology and knows how to leverage it.

Give yourself some mental space


Part of your job is to keep communication pathways open between yourself, your students and their parents. That said, if that line of communication means you are connected and reachable non-stop, it can become an energy and attention drain. Make sure you give yourself time to disconnect at some point in the day. Make a ritual of it even if just for a half-hour in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening with a cup of tea and something relaxing that does not involve a screen or an internet connection.


Whether you are a veteran or a fresh face teaching this fall, feel free to share your strategies for staying organized and staying focused on your students’ needs.