Thursday, October 4, 2012

De-Clutter Your Mind

Getting organized is near the top of most of our to-do lists.   But I’ll venture to say 75% or more of our clutter problems aren’t because we don’t work hard enough, or that our homes are too small or our children are messy.  Most of our problems start because we can’t think through what needs to be done. 

We can’t get our minds under control.  We can’t make decisions.  We are on mental overload.

Do you know that feeling?

For years, I lived with an ongoing sense that I should be doing something all the time. It ate at me. Even when I was focused on something important, there was a latent unease about what else I should be doing.  It was an underlying anxiety that hung around, even when there was no pressing deadline or responsibility.   It caused stress and lack of sleep.

It wasn’t until I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, that I discovered a reason for this tension.   It seems our brains aren’t designed to store and manage all of the information, deadlines and demands that swirl around us at all times.

Allen writes, “The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM (your mind), there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”

It was a head-slapping moment when I read those words. That was it! Allen goes on to explain that the first step to finding a solution is to get everything out of your mind and store it somewhere safe. Not the “safe” place you stored an important document at home, and now can’t find. But somewhere close at hand.

I realized my mind was trying to manage more stuff than it could hold, and one to-do list wasn’t the answer because it wasn’t keeping things in safe places.

So I decided to do something about it and created a project management notebook.  Here’s what I did:
  1. I took a personal assessment of all my responsibilities, projects, priorities and tasks. Everything.  I got everything out of my mind and onto one master list.  This took a few pages and about a week as things came to my mind.  I listed things that I had to do that week and in the coming months.  Nothing was too big or too small to include.  I didn’t try to bring any organization to it, I just did a major brain dump.
  2. When I had everything in one place, I had a near panic attack at how big the list was.
  3. Once I could breathe normally, I divided that list into two lists:  a project list and a task list.  A project is anything that takes more than one step.  Like planning a birthday party or writing a book proposal.  A task is anything that is only one step, like making a dentist appointment.
  4. Using that philosophy, I created a project management notebook to keep track of all my responsibilities.  I actually developed this idea further and now keep lists of all kinds of things I want to remember, like devotions I want to write and notes on upcoming projects.  This notebook isn’t fancy.  It’s just a simple three-ring binder.
  5. I create my weekly to-do list by pulling a manageable number of items off one of my lists. 
Having a safe place to keep track of things I need to remember enables me to have more peace, and be fully present when I need to be.  I don’t have that constant anxiety about what I am forgetting.  But even more important than that, having everything in one place made me realize I was doing too much.  No one could keep up the pace I had set for myself.  But without a master plan, I couldn’t adequately assess my workload.

The truth is I have enough time and energy to do everything God asks me to do.  The problem is I add lots more on to my plate. So I’m on a journey to be a better steward of my time and mental energy.  And that starts with keeping my mind clear of clutter.

Glynnis Whitwer is on staff with Proverbs 31 Ministries as the Senior Editor of the P31 Woman magazine and director of the Writing Team. She is one of the writers of Encouragement for Today, the Proverbs 31 e-mail devotions, with over 500,000 daily readers.  Her newest book, I Used to be So Organized, was released last fall.  Glynnis, her husband Tod, and their five children live in Glendale, Arizona.  Visit for more information.

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