Free Your Space: De-clutter your brain

Ever try to listen to a report someone is giving in a meeting or to someone telling a story about their morning drive to work and find that you have to ask them to repeat the whole thing because your mind was elsewhere? Or perhaps you may just respond with a nod, hoping that the gesture will suffice for what you think they just said. Do you move the same item from one week’s To-Do list to the next, week after week, month after month, never really making any progress on it? Looking at the piles of paper and stuff around you, do you feel like you have not a clue of how to even begin to start addressing it all?

These things happen to most people, whether frequently or infrequently, at some point in our lives. It's hard to get organized when the clutter that you're battling is the clutter in your brain.

Although it is snowing (again) as I type, March is almost upon us and rest assured spring will come. And with it will come the motivation to begin tackling some of these worrisome distractions. It is with thoughts of warmer weather and increased adrenalin that I take the time to share a three-day strategy for preparing to overcome the mess, both within your head and without.

Day 1: Set aside 30 minutes to do a brain-dump. Use either a blank Word document on your computer or a paper planner or notebook to write down everything that's on your mind that needs to be addressed as they come to mind and not in any particular order. This list can include things like "Send a sympathy card to Mary" as well as "Clean out car" and "Make dentist appointment." Don’t waste time trying to organize your list. This is just an opportunity to get it all out of your head and de-clutter your brain by capturing all those pending thoughts in a place where you can look at them clearly. This method of collecting everything that is an “open loop” in your life is one used by David Allen, productivity guru and author of “Getting Things Done.” When you are done with this activity, decide on a 30-minute time period to look the list again tomorrow. I suggest your next session be in the morning around breakfast time.

Day 2: Review your list and add anything else that has come to your mind. Things like "Bring returns back to Macy's" and "Plan summer vacation."

Over these first two days, feel free to open your list to add any ideas that might come to you at random times.

Day 3: On day three, preferably at the same morning time, review this master list that you have created and choose items to put on this week's to-do list. These items must be things that require one single action, for instance: if sending a sympathy card requires first purchasing the card, the action to put on your to-do list is "Purchase sympathy card," while “Send sympathy card to Mary” remains on the master list. Similarly, if cleaning out the car requires having a bag for clutter removal, paper towels and cleaner, add bringing those items to the car to your to-do list. You may have had your returns on your list for months, but what is the next step that will help move it off your list? Do you need to find the receipt? Or maybe just put the bag in the car? Whatever that step is, add it to the to-do list. The point is to break down all of your tasks and goals into simple actionable items. Baby steps.

Now that you have your two lists, a master list to capture all the clutter in your head that distracts you from concentrating on tasks at hand, and a weekly to-do list of small action-oriented items you are armed with a clear mind, a comprehensive outline, and a workable to-do list. Sit back, breathe in a feeling of control and peace of mind, and check your lists again tomorrow.

* Annette Reyman is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO®) and President of its Greater Philadelphia Chapter. To contact her for organizing work, professional unpacking, productivity support, gift certificates or speaking engagements call 610-213-9559 or email her at annette@allrightorganizing.com. Visit her Web sites at www.allrightorganizing.com and www.allrightmoves.com. Follow All Right Organizing on Facebook and Pinterest.

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