Does keeping track of all your to-do’s sometimes make you feel like a crazy person, muttering to yourself as you wander aimlessly lost in a fog of mental lists and endless tasks? Give your brain a break from the buzz and get those mental to-do lists out of your head and onto paper! Seriously. It’s not a competition to see who can load the most information before their brain explodes.
We know that we are capable of tracking a litany of parallel tasks — from the running tally of groceries to the sequence of steps for your upcoming product launch. And let’s not forget about the school calendar that is overlaid onto the activities calendar and combined with the play date calendar added to your work schedule and meeting calendars.
Feeling tired yet? Because like a bad late night infomercial, that’s not all you do! You hold in your head all the ideas for future projects, conversations that you intend to have with people (if and when you find a moment to call), action steps for the coming week/month/year, and let’s not forget the things that you want to remind your darling husband and kids to do!
The reality is that the more you try to hold in your head, the more likely things will be forgotten (until you wake up a 2 am in a panic after suddenly remembering that thing you were supposed to have ready for the next day). Give yourself a break and get it all down on paper (or what counts as paper in this era of digital everything).
How to Get It All Out of Your Head and Onto Paper
Get in the Habit of Doing a Brain Dump — Take time at the end of every work day or if you prefer, at the end of every day, to compile a list of random thoughts, tasks or action items that you need to get out of your head. Note: This doesn’t need to be a neat and tidy process. The purpose is to simply get it out so your brain can let go.
Create a Mental Filing System — Create a mental filing system (and by mental, I mean a filing system for your mental stuff, not one you keep in your head). Chances are it is the same stuff that plagues your thoughts over and over — grocery lists, project tasks, blog post ideas, future vacations, etc.
- Start memos for idea lists and random thoughts
- Create tasks for short to-do’s
- Add calendar events for project-related tasks
- Draft emails to cover off future conversations
- Take photos to remember names and visual details.
Break the Memorizing Habit — Stop memorizing. That means no telephone numbers, no school activities, no appointments. Nothing. Instead enter it all into your SmartPhone and sync it with whatever backup system you use.
Learn to Trust Your System — Build a reliable system that includes regular syncing and data backup. The reason your brain wants to hold onto ideas is that it doesn’t trust those ideas are safe (because chances are you haven’t stored them anywhere). So now that you are doing a daily brain dump, you need to learn how to depend on that system so your brain ‘lets go’ of those thoughts.
Take Immediate Action — Thinking about calling a friend to catch-up? Instead of letting that thought bounce around in your brain for days or even weeks, send her a quick email to schedule a time to chat or go for coffee. Include a quick outline of what you intend to discuss so you aren’t tempted to hold onto that thread.
Once you conquer your mental clutter, you can focus on having a productive week and getting through that task list you compiled instead of jumping from idea to idea as soon as it pops in your head!