Even if you keep your desk nice and organized and you process your incoming paper promptly, you may still have clutter lurking where you can’t see it.
That kind of clutter is harder to attack than the physical clutter that’s right in front of you, getting in the way. You have to find it first.
It’s the clutter that’s in your head.
How do you know if you have mental clutter?
You wake up in the middle of the night remembering something important you forgot to do.
You find it hard to focus on one project at a time long enough to get effective work done.
Your desk is full of reminders to do tasks, all of which pester you for your attention all day.
You find yourself in a cold sweat not being able to remember if the big meeting is today or next week.
The problem is that the strategies you’re using to manage your time and tasks only work when you’ve got very little going on. And we know that’s not you.
If you have just a few things to attend to each day, you generally won’t forget to do them.
If you’ve only got one project, you work on it.
If you have a handful of tasks, you can easily prioritize them and get them done.
If there’s only one meeting coming up, you’ll remember what day it is.
Life might have been like that early in your career. Everyone’s life used to be simpler, if only because we’d lived fewer years and had accumulated fewer experiences and obligations (and less stuff).
Now you’re busy, and that’s not going to settle down anytime soon, at least, not in terms of how the world works. What can change, and what must change, is the way you handle it.
Use the tools
It’s simple. You have to write things down. Whether you do it digitally or with a pen, you need to get information out of your head and onto your to do list and calendar.
Use your to do list to record every task you need to accomplish. Be as complete as you can.
Make another list of all the projects you’re working on. These are not the same thing as to do’s. Projects are bigger and contain multiple to do’s.
Pick up each reminder you’re keeping around and briefly define the task it represents. Put that task on your to do list. File or toss the paper.
Add all your meetings, appointments and events to your calendar. It’s better to add them as potential events (code them as such) than to omit them if they’re not confirmed and then forget to add them. Refer to your calendar often during the day and remember to look at the days and weeks ahead, not just today.
Capturing information in locations you can find it again is key. Relying on memory is for amateurs.
There are other benefits to getting information out of your head. Writing about a project forces you to be specific and detailed. A project may seem clear in your head, but once you go to describe it, you see elements you’ve overlooked, inconsistencies and vagueness.
Those are obstacles that you won’t overcome until you express the ideas in writing. Explaining a project to a colleague can bring this clarity as well.
Another great tool? A coach. A good coach can accelerate your progress in getting mentally decluttered and regaining control of your time and your productivity.