How to manage the mental clutter and remember everything you have to do

Dealing with mental clutter

Have you done your mind sweep today?

That might sound a little strange to you, but it’s a valuable tool in your productivity toolkit, especially when you use it on a regular basis.

The mind sweep helps you clear out the clutter of ideas, tasks, and other random things bouncing around your mind. The process is easy. Sit down and capture on paper or in your computer all of the things that you think have to get done and are keeping you from being productive.

Frequently, the thoughts fly in and out and all around your mind. All too often, you act on them as soon as you think of it. You stop doing what you were doing and jump to another task, afraid you might forget about it. Your productivity drops. In other cases, you tell yourself you’ll remember what has to be done and you end up forgetting about it. You lose opportunities.

The mind sweep is a way to minimize distractions while collecting the information you need and storing it in a reliable system. Your brain is not a reliable storage closet; capture everything on a notepad or on your computer.

In a previous job, we had shared calendars on our computers where everyone could see each other’s schedules. There was a loud laugh coming from two offices over and a colleague of mine called out, “Joe has ‘go to Walmart’ and ‘go to the dry cleaners’ on his calendar.” That’s right. My system has to capture everything and best way to start the process of capturing everything is the mind sweep.

Once you’ve done the mind sweep, it’s easy to see if the task you’ve listed really is that important or if it can be eliminated. You can also start to see clusters, items that might be related to each other or things that could be bundled for greater efficiencies, like errands, phone calls, emails, or project tasks.

Mind sweeps are great to do first thing in the morning to get your day rolling. You may find that you’re also doing two-minute mind sweeps several times during the day to stay focused on the task at hand.

Every couple of weeks you might do a major mind sweep, creating what I call the Master List.

This is not only capturing the items that flit through your mind during the workday, but every single thing you can think of that has to get done, like home projects, work projects, chores and errands, short-term and long-term tasks, and so on.

It’s from this Master List that I will choose three or four To-do items. I don’t want to get overwhelmed with a massive To-do list, so I leave the items on the Master List until the appropriate time to deal with them, but I’ve captured everything I could.

These mind sweeps—the quick two-minute drills and the longer exercise that feeds my Master List—are the first steps in my system for getting things done. Before I can see the whole picture, I have to collect and capture the information so I can make decisions about the path forward.

The mind sweep is also a great tool for regrouping after you’ve become overwhelmed by your workload and have noticed a decline in your productivity.

For more on the mind sweep, check out Getting Things Done by David Allen.

About Joe Serio

Dr. Joe Serio is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author who helps the people in your organization navigate resistance to change so they can move forward successfully.

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