Declutter to improve your thinking and productivity

Declutter to improve your thinking and productivity

Learn how to organise your physical and virtual space to achieve more of what's important to you

You’re looking at a mess of files, stationery and papers on your colleague’s desk, or maybe on your own. You’ve browsed through your Facebook and scrolled past numerous posts in the past hour. You’ve seen the mess of furniture when you moved to a new place. In every sense, this is clutter and we’ve lived with it ever since we can remember.

Clutter – be it physical or mental — can mean different things to different people. It can mean too many items in one place, or a disorganised desk. But what might seem neat to one person might be complete chaos to another. It’s all about perspective when it comes to clutter, but even so, we can’t ignore its importance when it comes to our thinking, learning and productivity.

You probably have heard about the KonMari method from the famous Japanese organising consultant and author Marie Kondo. Her philosophy and approach are inspired by minimalism, where she tackles physical clutter in office spaces and homes in a more systematic way.

Physical clutter, whether in an office or home, can affect a person’s focus in different ways. Neuroscientists at Princeton University set out to learn more about this when they studied and compared people’s task performance when space was organised compared with when it wasn’t. They concluded that the physical space competes for your attention, so the more the physical clutter, the harder it is to concentrate. 

Marie Kondo also encourages each person to picture in their minds the life they want to live and what they must do to get there. Those things that aren’t worth the space must be discarded. Physical clutter may distract us from our goals, but a cluttered mind also stops us from thinking better and thus, executing our goals. We must be able to create the mental space that allows us to think better to do better.

Today, with the internet readily accessible on our smartphones, information is starting to become a problem. And with more and more information readily available in just a few taps, the harder it is to find valid or relevant information. As we consume all these inputs, actively or passively, are we losing track of which ones are worth keeping in our minds?

In the same manner, when you’re learning new things, as Future Shock author Alvin Toffler once said, you need to “learn, unlearn, relearn”. Just as physical items can become clutter, the things that enter your mind can become clutter. To be able to think better and learn more relevant information, you must unlearn.

Understanding how clutter affects one’s thinking is an important step toward creating a more productive space for yourself. Here are some other steps to help you manage clutter for better thinking.

First, everyone has different perceptions of what “neat” is, so see what works for you and define what neatness means to you. Some people prefer a room to be neat and tidy to stay productive, while some others need a little mess to get their creative thinking running.

Second, build your research skills. Look at it this way: with so much information available, it isn’t possible that every single thing on the net is true or even of value. This is why building your research skills — searching for information and being able to compare and bring up what is relevant — is important.

And finally, don’t forget to do a little maintenance. You cannot declutter the entire internet or the mess of others, but what you can control, you should maintain. The fact is, we cannot control everything we want to, so to create a better thinking and learning space for yourself, make sure your environment and mindset are best suited to your productivity.

When it comes to better thinking and learning, clutter affects everything that we do. In this digital age, digital clutter overwhelms us, alongside all the different types of physical clutter in our lives. But to do better in anything, we need better thinking and learning. And we can start this by managing the clutter all around us.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at

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