Are you stressed about your to-dos and projects? Do you constantly think about all the different things you should be doing? Does your mind make you think about tasks that you really should not or cannot be doing right now but you have to think about them anyway?
If yes, you are probably making one big mistake: you do not have a good, trusted system in your life to organize your commitments.
Unorganized commitments = restless mind
I know how it feels to be stressed about everything that I have to do. It drives me insane. Worse, it makes me not work on any of the important to-dos. Instead I keep on wondering about what I should work on. And when I don’t come up with a good answer I tend to resort to procrastination. And even when I start one thing there is this nagging feeling in the back of my mind telling me that this is probably not the right thing to spend time on right now.
The problem is usually not the amount of tasks and responsibilities. It is the feeling that I don’t have them under control, that they are not properly captured, organized and prioritized. Which brings me back to the need for a system.
Have one place for all your ideas and commitments outside of your brain
Whatever you do, make sure that you have a system that captures everything that you need or want to do at some point. Otherwise, you will be restless and stressed. Your mind will constantly worry about things that you shouldn’t do right now but that it is afraid of forgetting.
David Allen calls this a trusted system. Because your mind can finally be at ease, knowing that everything is taken care of outside of your brain in a system that does not forget. This frees up a lot of mental capacity and energy.
Get started with a brain dump
If much of what you want or need to do lives in your head instead of a system outside of your brain, start with a brain dump. Get a white sheet of paper and just start writing. Write down everything that comes to your mind. To-dos, projects, commitments, dates, deadlines… whatever it is.
Don’t discriminate. This list can contain everything and the kitchen sink: Change tires, learn Spanish, send email to boss, buy tickets for concert, travel the world, take out trash.
Move your brain dump into a system
I’m sure you do have other systems in place as well: inboxes, to-do lists on paper and digitally, sheets of notes, etc. Ideally, all these things should move into one system that manages your tasks, commitments and projects.
I recommend a digital system as your trusted system. Why? Most of us spend most of the time in front of a computer, or when we are not, we are always carrying our smartphones around. So a trusted digital system that synchronizes between those two places enables you to access your system wherever you are.
My recommendations for digital systems
These are some of my favorite tools that are a good starting point for your journey towards a trusted system. All of them are free up to a high degree of functionality and synchronize between computer, smartphone (iOS and Android) and tablet.
- Wunderlist – a simple, beautiful task and project manager. My recommendation if you want to start simple and appreciate aesthetics.
- Evernote – “the workspace for your life’s work” or your digital brain. My recommendation if you love systems and are looking for something to capture your whole life in one amazing tool. Works especially great for capturing notes and pictures.
- Dropbox – the no. 1 cloud storage in the world. Works well if you are dealing with a lot of files (and not so many notes) that you need to access from different places. For your main tasks and projects you can create simple text files. This is a great solution if you want to keep things as plain as possible and not get distracted by fancy software.
Capture all new commitments in your trusted system
It is important that you capture new stuff on an ongoing basis in that system. If your system consists of a loose pile of sheets, a paper calendar, a folder at home, a notes app on your phone and a Moleskin notebook in your work bag, your mind will constantly stress out about where to put your stuff and where stuff is saved when you need to access it.
This doesn’t mean that you have to decide between analogue and digital. A beautiful paper notebook to carry around can make you want to write down things – and that’s awesome! Personally, I combine daily to-do and notes lists on paper with an overall system that is digital. But you have to make sure that your systems are in sync. That means transferring your most important notes and left over to-dos into a digital system and getting them back out for your daily planning.
Get started and work on the most important thing
Once you have everything in one place, it is so much easier to get started. Your mind will be happy because it can see everything that needs to be done in one system. You can go through your lists and decide what to work on, knowing that everything else will not be forgotten.
When your mind is at peace, it’s time to make a decision about what to work on next. And if you want to make a great decision about that, ask yourself some great questions:
- What is the most important thing to work on right now?
- What will move the needle the most for me?
- What task does my mind obsess about constantly?
- Which task is both important and urgent?
- Which important task have I been avoiding and postponing?
“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” (Tony Robbins)
The answer to those questions are your best places to start.
Your game plan (it can take a while, but it’s worth it…)
Ignore this if you have a trusted system that is 100% maintained (LOL).
Brain dump: Take a white sheet of paper and 10 minutes now to write down everything that comes to mind. Just write freely. If you need more time, just continue.
How do you feel now? Most people feel incredibly relieved. Why? Because for the first time they see everything they think they should do in one place. And that feels very empowering.
Choose a system: If you don’t have one yet, try any of the tools that I recommended above.
Transfer: Transfer your brain dump into that system. Merge it with your existing to-do list if necessary.
Decide and get started: Ask yourself the questions from above. The answer will give you your best stuff to work on. Start now!
Let me know in the comments how it goes! Now dump your brain!