Clear Your Mind and Get it All Done… Sooner or Later

2013-05-21 06.40.52I know how to get stuff done, and I can teach you how, too. I have tools and systems for all the stages of workflow (collect, process, organize, review and do). I have an inbox and project lists which I clear and review weekly. I say no to activities that don’t support my goals and priorities. For the most part I capture and process new tasks as they occur to me, adding them to my Master Project List or scheduling them on my calendar. I have a notebook handy for capturing stray thoughts when I want to stay focused on my current activity and not worry about losing the thought.

But life happens. Sometimes I get lazy, or sick, or preoccupied, or I’m traveling, or busier than usual, and stuff piles up (physical and mental clutter), and I start to get overwhelmed. When that happens I make a new list: a mind dump. Sometimes multiple lists are required. I make lists because my head would explode if I didn’t! When things pile up — on my counter and in my head — and I need to spend some time sorting through papers, or clearing clutter, to regain control of my physical space, I know that each item I touch will trigger more thoughts as I work and that I will need to capture them somehow. A mind dump is an excellent way of clearing one’s mind. Here are my favorite ways to do it:

My Patented (not really) French Door Mind Dump Technique

Sometimes I get several sheets of paper, tape them to my French door window panes (which are conveniently located to my office desk, dining room table and kitchen counter), and grab a black Sharpie. I prefer a black Sharpie to a lighter, thinner pen or pencil because it makes the items seem more real to me — bolder, more concrete, less likely to be ignored later. I tell myself, “I will tidy up (or work on this project) for an hour, and every time I think of something else I need to do I will write it down on the appropriate list and continue tidying (or working on this project). I will not stop to actually DO any of the items until my countertop and my brain are clear.”

By Category: If the problem is that I got lazy and am just playing catch-up, I pre-sort the lists by category, labeling them HOME (e.g. change light bulb), WORK (e.g. finish newsletter), SELF (e.g. make Dr. appt.), and OTHERS (e.g. call Mike). You can use whatever the major categories are that represent your life (KIDS, SCHOOL, SPECIAL PROJECT, CHURCH, HEALTH, etc.)

Sooner or Later: If I am really feeling pressed for time, the lists become more time-focused. I call them TODAY (this seriously must be done today!!!), THIS WEEK (these are the next things that need to be done), SOONER (these tasks and projects are not quite as urgent, but they’re important to me), and LATER (these are things that can wait for further analysis; some may truly need to be done within a few weeks or a month; some may just be ideas; and some of them may end up being purged from the list altogether).

I already know that some of the tasks need to be done sooner than others, but until I determine which ones can wait, and write them down, it FEELS like they all need to be done NOW! Once I’ve captured them in their broad time frame categories I can break them down into smaller tasks (if necessary) and schedule time to accomplish them without stressing out about all of them right now.

Before or After: This is another version of “Sooner or Later”. It could be BEFORE TRIP and AFTER TRIP, or BEFORE EVENT and AFTER EVENT. An “event“ can be anything coming up soon that I have to prepare for and am a little worried about: a presentation, a holiday, house guests, a party, etc. Figuring out which things can wait until “after” takes the pressure off thinking I have to do everything on my mind NOW. It helps me relax and focus on the relatively few things that really need doing “before” the trip or event.

NOTE: You don’t have to have French doors for this to work! You can put your lists on a bulletin board, or keep them together on a clip board. It depends on your preferences and how much stuff you have on your mind. You can also simply list everything on your mind as it occurs to you, in no particular order, and sort it out later, which is a more traditional and perfectly good mind dump method.

What do you think? Will one of these ideas work for you? How do you clear your mind? Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2013 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janice Norris on May 21, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Great idea! I get the most accomplished when I “putter” at it but it’s also easy for distracting thoughts to interrupt my putter flow and then I either stop the task at hand or start feeling overwhelmed with all there is to do – and stop the task at hand. I think the list would work best for me but I can understand how the post-its could be beneficial for others. This would have been great for when I was packing to move!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Hi Janice! Feeling overwhelmed with all there is to do is about 1) not having a system you can trust (what are the weak points in your process of getting stuff done?), 2) having a system, but not keeping it up (or losing control of it from time to time like I do in this blog post), 3) trying to do too much (or the wrong things) in the first place.

      But as for concentrating on the task at hand, I highly recommend simply having a “capture device” (notepad, voice recorder, etc.) handy for recording stray thoughts to avoid forgetting them, or being preoccupied about forgetting them. So much easier to re-focus on the task (or relaxing activity) when your mind is clear!

  2. nancy maschhoff on January 28, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Hazel, “Clear your mind, get it done” is where I’m at. I choose this one first.
    Going to work on it and go from there. Thanks for staying in contact.

    • Hazel Thornton on January 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Hi Nancy, nice to hear from you!

  3. Christy on July 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Your blog has reminded me to keep up with the Master List. I nearly forgot about it after working with an organizer but then going on vacation.

    Question about when you’re making lists: Do you follow the 2 minute rule David Allen recommends, to immediately do anything that can be finished in 2 minutes? or do you add it to the list and carry on listing?

    • Hazel Thornton on July 13, 2015 at 7:45 am

      Christy, your comment reminded me to link to my subsequent blog post about Why You Need a Master To-Do List and a Project Box. Thanks! Regarding the 2 minute rule, if I am going about my day and see something that needs doing I try to just do it. But, to answer your question, I DO NOT stop in the middle of making a list to do it. I add it to the list. The reason being that getting up to do it would distract me from the task at hand, which is to be making a list. It would be like organizing in a room and every time you come across something that belongs in another room leaving the room to go put it away. NO! That breaks the focus and momentum you had going in the first room. And you will find five other things to do while you are walking through the house. That’s why we always have a box to put those things in, to put away later. Make sense?

  4. Christy on July 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I meant to add that I found your site via a podcast on organizing.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 13, 2015 at 7:46 am

      Do you remember which one?

  5. jitendra on November 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    I would like to give thanks from core of my heart . I move on again on my way after read such type of inspirational article from you . it really help me to overcome & control on my thoughts . I used a small diary or paper in my pocket & also use another diary at night to conclude all the events and tasks. But the problem is that I skip write or make list when I am much depressed or make a fight with thoughts . or if I not completed the task . I just do unnecessary activities or wondering just like idiot . this is so kind of u if u help me to conquer on such activities.

    • Hazel Thornton on November 30, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Jitendra! I’m so glad you found this post helpful!

  6. Maureen DeGarmo on May 23, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Helpful, clear post. My favorite part is, “I already know that some of the tasks need to be done sooner than others, but until I determine which ones can wait, and write them down, it FEELS like they all need to be done NOW!” So true! And…options! I love options.

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