Do you ever feel like you can’t seem to get a handle on what is important in life? What things need your attention? What is not important enough to warrant a place in your mind?  Many of us run around from day to day with too much on our minds and this can hold us back from achieving our potential and getting what we want out of life.

We all know being organized is the key to massive stress reduction, however, getting there can sometimes be an uphill battle. When it comes to time management and prioritizing important things in life, cutting through the mental clutter is an essential exercise.

Of all the ways of clearing one’s head and focusing, like a laser, on what is important, my favorite technique is to get all my thoughts down in black and white on a sheet of paper. 

Call it what you will, I prefer the term “brain dump” because it accurately describes this exercise.

The brain dump is a catalog of sorts with the sole purpose of creating a mentally tidy place where you can more effectively plan and prioritize all the tasks and activities requiring your attention.

Trying to efficiently plan your time when your head is full of unprioritized thoughts is like swimming in quicksand: not making progress despite all the stress and hard work you might put into that planning session.

What does this cause? When we don’t efficiently plan our time, we don’t easily accomplish our personal goals, and we hinder our personal growth potential. All of this can weigh us down, causing us to feel as if we aren’t going where we want in life.

In effect, you might experience the stress of having too many things on your mind, which then promotes stagnation in personal development. This amplifies preexisting stress.

What is the fix?

When stress mounts, a simple technique can massively alleviate stress, help you focus, and reduce the anxiety that comes from having too much on your mind.

This will allow you to focus on what is important and make strides toward accomplishing your goals.

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How does this benefit me?

  • Less stress because you are not subconsciously trying to keep track of everything in your mind.
  • Making your thoughts visual will let you see them in a new light and possibly spark new ideas.
  • Having a concrete version of your thoughts will allow you to easily sort, categorize, and prioritize them at a later time.
  • Afford yourself the opportunity to plan and make allowances for goal-directed activities.
  • Put out the fires and prevent yourself from missing important deadlines.

How to create a thought catalog

  1. Get out a few sheets of lined paper and your favorite pen or pencil.
  2. Sit in a quiet, distraction-free space and write down everything that bubbles up within your mind.
  3. Write everything from the most time-sensitive and stressful to the most mundane, for example: “The peeling paint on the chair really bothers me”. That statement might be something you would judge to be unimportant, however, it is taking up precious real estate in your mind and needs to be dealt with in an effective manner.
  4. If you have trouble letting your thoughts flow, understand you don’t need complete sentences, or even complete thoughts for that matter. Consider starting with the things that bother you or that you are worried about.
  5. After writing about worries, think about everything you are excited about.
  6. Lists should contain every thought that comes to mind from the inconsequential to the important. I have compiled lists containing my grocery shopping needs, home maintenance tasks, health concerns, appointments, and chore lists. At this point, putting everything in order is not important. Don’t block the flow of thoughts with any attempt to enumerate or categorize them.
  7. Write until you can’t think of anything more, and you feel like you have to work hard at extracting any more thoughts from your head.
  8. After writing, take a break. Sit back and marvel at everything you have been carrying around in your mind. It isn’t unusual for people to have upwards of 300 thoughts in their mind.

Next Steps

You now have a foundation that serves as the base for future planning sessions. Now that everything is written down, put the list in a safe place where you can easily refer to it when you need it.

This is but the first step in planning and organizing time, it sets the groundwork for future success by removing the anxiety that comes from having too much on your mind.  You can rest easier because your thoughts are in a safe place and you are now positioned to give them the attention they need.

Use your thought catalog to shape your future planning sessions. Categorize and prioritize the important, while letting the less pressing items take residence on a future action list.