xIt may be the most influential 4-letter word in English. It’s an F-word, but not THAT one! ‘Free’ is one that moves people to action.

What is it about F-R-E-E that compels us to move? To GRAB whatever freebie lands in front of us? Whether it’s real-world clothes, kitchen ware, or digital articles or tools – admit it. You’re as hard pressed as I am to pass up many of these offers.

Here’s evidence that a significant number of people are moved to action on the internet when they see ‘free’.

Tom Q. Johnson blogs on Lead Pages that a Split Test was performed on two headlines:

  • “How I Sold $2,442,832.00 on Low-Tech Webinars*”
  • “NEW FREE TRAINING: How To Create A Webinar That Sells…In 28 Days Or Less!”

Which one do you think came out ahead? You guessed it. Number 2 garnered a 22% more response rate.

When my friends Suzi and John unexpectedly got pregnant, she confided in her 7th month “we’ve furnished the baby’s room and filled the dresser with baby clothes all from the Free Page on Craigslist!” Similarly, a woman in the Fraser Valley inherited 3 acres and wanted to start a hobby farm. She had no funding, so she started combing Free Pages. She credits the hobby farm she has today to the freebies she found, including a horse, and smaller animals.

The Need To Avoid Mind Clutter 

From Excessive Free Offers

It’s difficult to turn down a free offer – admit it. Does this mean the next step is Hoarders Anonymous, and that we all need Hoarders’ Intervention? Not at all, but many of us get distracted by the offers of free reports, newsletters, blogs, and tools we see daily. We end up downloading more and subscribing to more than we can ever use. We are consequently not as productive with our time as we could be, even losing sight of our goals.

This issue is a proverbial elephant in the room that many people are just now recognizing. I have to admit that I think there is some synchronicity going on. I chose this topic yesterday as I was reevaluating the long list of newsletters and blogs that I subscribe to. Then I started writing on the topic post last night. This morning I woke up to find a blog post in my in-box from friend Tracey-Lynne’s blog ‘The Art of Tuesday’, which approaches the same topic. Read here how eloquently Tracey weaves thoughts of mind clutter and time into her post.

On the internet is such a colossal overload of information that it’s instant mind clutter if you don’t go in with a clear idea of what you’re there for. Or at least a time limit. Occasionally you might just need to zone out. You might want to go to the internet to search for cute baby animal pictures or new boots. That’s harmless IF you set a time limit. You may even want to set a timer and place it next to your monitor. Otherwise, you might feel like you’re floating around in an intergalactic stratosphere where no concept of time exists!

How I Arrived At This Point

I decided I wanted to work as a freelancer about a year ago. Since that time, I have allowed countless hours – likely hundreds – to whiz by wasted whilst on the internet.

As meaningless as eating empty calories. Those blizzards or chocolate croissants seem like a gift from heaven at first taste. But as usual with instant gratification, the moment you’ve licked the last morsel off your lips you feel hungry, sick, or simply regretful.

My experience in the past year has shown me a few things we can do to avoid mind clutter and stay focused. I’ve been on a mission in the past couple of weeks to do the things I outline below. Already, I feel less overwhelmed and more on task throughout the day. Here are 3 ways to avoid mind clutter and stay focused.

The First Way To Avoid Mind Clutter

The first way to avoid information overload is to unsubscribe from excess newsletter and blog subscriptions. Keep no more than you have time to read. This was tough for me. I’m an information junkie, as are all writers and other literary types I’ve ever known. Plus there are such an abundance of quality newsletters and blogs. The trick, though, is to stick to those that are directly relevant to you. To your goals. For me as a freelance B2B web content and case study copywriter, I am limiting myself to newsletters and blogs about how to write, market, or find prospects in this blended niche.

So it’s the best approach if your subscription list is miles long. Go ahead and do it. Unsubscribe to newsletters and blogs unless you CAN’T reach your business goal without them! Now, before you stop reading because you believe in the benefits of being the ultimate “voracious reader of online content from diverse sources”, hear me out. You can still read voraciously from a diverse range of sources, but just don’t have them all pinging into your inbox on a continual basis.

To keep feeding your voracious appetite, all you need (besides the content you subscribe to) is a list of your favourite go-to sources, which you can keep in a file somewhere, and reward yourself by going there to read when you are all finished your work for the day.

Here are 10 links to newsletters and blogs that I’ve spared from the culling. (ie I still subscribe to them)

Yoav Schwartz’s Uberflip 

Dharmesh Shaw + Brian Halligan’s HubSpot Blog 

Casey Hibbard’s ‘Stories That Sell’ 

Mac-Forums 

Michael Steltzner’s Social Media Examiner 

Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout Blog 

Jon Morrow’s Boost Blog Traffic 

Joe Pulizzi’s Content Marketing Institute 

Clay Collins’ Lead Pages Presents 

Brian Clark’s Copyblogger 

Note: There are many more excellent, relevant blogs I read. I simply no longer subscribe to them all.

The Second Way To Avoid Mind Clutter

I’ve learned that the sky won’t fall if I miss a free offer. Especially if it didn’t pertain to me. Like a webinar on how to create and market a PPC website. My advice is to only give free offers your time if they directly pertain to your business goal.

Some freebies are absolute ‘must-haves’.  I recognized from the headline for this freebie offer from Mac-Forums today that it would bring added value to my tool shed. It read ‘7 Days of FREE Downloads from GraphicStock’ gives access to their collection of over 250,000 images. This is exciting for me because I have a website for which I am constantly on the hunt for good quality, low or no cost images.

A second ‘must-have’ freebie I recently got from the good people at HubSpot on February 18, 2015. ThisMakeMyPersona tool enables you to create a buyer persona by answering a series of questions about your ideal customer. Cool, right? This is directly relevant to my goals, so I didn’t hesitate to download it.

So, beyond the offers that you know without a doubt will add value to your arsenal, think carefully. Keep your eyes and mind on your tasks at hand, and don’t waste time checking out those free offers for tools or content that will not directly assist you in reaching your business goal.

The Third Way To Avoid Mind Clutter

This flows from the second way to avoid mind clutter. It’s a logical conclusion. Just to reaffirm: Only download tools and content or sign up for a subscription if they can directly aid you in reaching your goal. You might think “I have enough RAM, so why not get it just in case I need it later?” But your hard drive doesn’t need the clutter. If you don’t need and use the item now, you will likely forget about it.

So many of the freebies online are enticing with their appeal of indirect benefit to you. Granted, maybe buried in layers of subtext is a moderately useful piece of information. Not strong support for downloading that freebie.

An example of a free offer that I bypassed recently is ‘Frobee Robots.txt Checker’. “Many robots.txt files contain hidden errors not easily visible to humans. Run your file through this tool and you never know what you’ll discover”. Not to say it isn’t a useful tool for you, but I wouldn’t use it.

On the other hand, GetListed is a free tool I would use if I didn’t have the excellent, my absolute favourite free SEO plugin from Yoast. GetListed, say the good people at Moz, is an awesome SEO tool that scores your local SEO visibility and gives you actionable next steps to raise your score.

I recommend going to your Downloads file regularly, about once a month, and do a quick scan. Ask yourself if you are going to use all those files you’ve recently downloaded. If not, trash them. To avoid mind clutter, I try to not bring excess data-clutter in to my computer. If I inadvertently bring it in, I try to get rid of it as soon as I can.

There you have it. These are 3 ways I avoid mind clutter these days, and it’s genuinely allowing me to be more focused and achieve more in my work day.

How do you avoid mind clutter? If you don’t, are you going to give this a shot? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

 

About the author: Lee Nourse

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I am an independent Vancouver case study copywriter. I write persuasive, concise content that jumps off the page and grabs the reader. I’ve completed AWAI’s (American Writers and Artists Inc.) comprehensive Accelerated Copywriting Program and am a member of both Circle of Success and The Professional Writers’ Alliance. I have a background in English language teaching, with a strong focus on writing. My first passion has been writing since I won an essay contest in 6th grade. (Mom still has the ribbon.)

This article was first published by Lee Nourse