You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind. It knows whether or not you’ve come to the conclusions you need to, and whether you’ve put the resulting outcomes and action reminders in a place that can be trusted to resurface appropriately within your conscious mind. – David Allen
This quote is a very powerful lesson on productivity. More importantly, it’s a powerful lesson on stress. How many of you have said you have too many ideas running around in your head? Or maybe you’ve said you can’t think straight.
These types of phrases are the results of a mind that is not at rest. A mind that is holding on to too many things at one time. In this article, I hope to help you break from the restlessness that a stressed mind can bring you.
What’s Nagging You
What’s the thing right now that keeps nagging you? The one item you need to take care of that you keep putting off. Is it going to the dentist (oh, wait that’s me)? Creating a budget? Cleaning the garage? Maybe you need to make that phone call? Lose the weight? The list is endless.
If any of these tasks struck a chord with you, let’s resolve that today and going forward. You really can have a mind that is in a much better state.
We Can’t Remember Everything – Stop Trying!
Remember the last time you got home from the store opened the fridge and discovered you forgot to get that one item (maybe milk or bread or eggs)? Why is it that we walk down the aisles of a grocery store and somewhere in the back of our minds we know we need eggs but we don’t remember to get them. Even though we walked right past them!
Our minds aren’t designed to remind us of things like this. Sure, a lot of the time we do remember. But you still haven’t replaced the lightbulb that’s been out for 5 weeks. Our brains operate in funny ways. But this is where the productivity and stress breakthrough happens.
We can’t trust ourselves to remember everything. Nobody can. Why would you even want to? It’s so stressful to try and remember everything you need to do, everything you’ve said, and who you’ve said it to. Mr. Rochefoucauld (no idea how to say his name) puts it well:
How is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person? —Duc de la Rochefoucauld
You Don’t Need To Remember Everything
You don’t need to remember everything. Reality is you can’t remember everything.You just need to remember one thing. Record your next steps on whatever it is your thinking about. If it’s the light bulb, the next time you recall you need to replace the bulb. Write it down or better, put it on an electronic to-do list.
As long as you have a consistent system that allows you to access that to-do list, you don’t have to fool your mind, you have come to a conclusion. Your next step is to buy the bulb at the grocery store. And since it’s on your grocery list that you look at every time you go shopping, you are free of that task.
Until the moment you are in the store and looking at the item on your phone that says, “light bulbs” you don’t ever have to think about it again. See, isn’t that powerful and freeing?
Now imagine creating a whole system that allows you to capture your tasks like this. Whether it’s a big project or a single task. Whether it’s at home or at work. Your mind is able to release the task and it trusts that you will return to the task because of your system.
Let Your System Free Your Mind
When you do this, your mind is free to think on things that are far more interesting. To not stress about all the to-dos of life. You’re free to be more creative, to think deeply about a problem (without being distracted by needing to clean the garage).
So how do you do this? Follow these steps to make it happen.
Capture what is nagging you what needs to get done and record this somewhere you can trust you will look at again.
Categorize the importance of the captured items. Determine which items need to be completed now and which can be put off. Do you have a project that has several steps? Or maybe just a simple 5-minute task.
Calendar the tasks or put them on a to-do list that reminds you or is in front of you. This is the step that prevents you from having to keep the tasks and ideas in your mind.
Complete the tasks. Get the stuff done. Check the tasks off and move on to the next.
Critique your work. After you finish several tasks and projects, make sure to look back and critique your work. What could be done differently, what could you improve, what do you need to stop doing?
This simple 5-step system starts with capturing the work that needs to get done. Categorizing it to create urgency and priority. Getting these items into a calendar and/or to-do system that will automatically remind you of when and what is due. Complete the tasks. Then critique your progress and continue the cycle.
This system allows you to capture at any point and insert those new projects, tasks, and ideas into your system. Truly freeing you from the burden of remembering.