Jason's birthday. Oil change for the car. Dental appointment. Get well soon card for Erin. Status report for work. Get a haircut. Renew warranty coverage for the laptops. Taxes. Reservations for our anniversary. Pick up the dry cleaning. Decide about whether and when to undergo the surgery the doctor recommended. Clean up my email inbox. Get an estimate for whatever. An endless chain of tasks large and small, mostly small, running through your brain every day, every hour, maybe multiple times per hour.
Brain clutter. It gets in the way of the really important thinking and doing we all must think and do, and we all want to think and do: Get a better job; plan for retirement; raise happy, healthy children; attend to loved ones in need; get together with extended family; enjoy life.
Letting the little things remain in a disordered jumble of "to do" keeps the workspace of your mind in a chaotic state. That chaos creates mental obstacles to finding paths to the more important objectives.
Because brain clutter gets in the way, decluttering your brain is a good thing to do. To declutter your brain apply one of the fundamental practices of kanban: "limit the work in progress." In this instance, try to reduce the clutter of concerns floating around in your mind. Here are some suggestions for decluttering.
- Attend to small, easy tasks
- Don't let them accumulate. Small, easy tasks distract from
the more important objectives.
Don't let small tasks accumulate.They distract from the important objectives. Complete the small, easy task right away if completing it will it ultimately be necessary, and if it's easy to do, and if you have what you need to get it done.
- Schedule what can be set aside
- If something needn't be done immediately, set it aside with a commitment to deal with it at a specific time. Scheduling it will clear it from your mind for now. You might need to write down your commitment to make certain you honor it.
- If you can't schedule it, move it to backlog
- There are some things that can't be scheduled because they require additional information or material. To keep them in mind, commit them to a backlog. Capture the items blocking that task and attend to them — or schedule them.
- Have multiple backlogs
- Mixing all kinds of tasks into a single backlog can become confusing. Create backlog channels for the different kinds of tasks you must address: a backlog for work, a backlog for family, a backlog for long-term future, and so on.
- Know how to set priorities
- Have in mind a definite way of setting priorities for different kinds of time. Know how to choose a task to work on for a ten-minute block of time at work or at home, or for a two-hour block at home on a weekend or sometime at work. Don't set priorities ad hoc.
- Decide what "good enough for now" means
- "Good enough for now" might have one meaning for cleaning out your email inbox, and a very different meaning when filing your taxes or choosing a birthday gift for your spouse. Because perfectionism can be a risk, know its warning signs. One warning sign: insufficient situational flexibility in the meaning of "good enough for now."
- Know the count of active concerns
- An active concern is one you haven't set aside or scheduled. You might not be working on it, but it's on your mind. The number of active concerns one can handle without significantly compromising one's ability to make progress toward important objectives probably varies from person to person, and depends on the nature of the concerns in question. But knowing how many there are can be helpful in determining whether some must be set aside or scheduled. Personally, I get uncomfortable if I have more than about a half-dozen active concerns. What's your number?
To make a start with this approach, avoid adopting the entire scheme in one go. Adopt it a bit at a time, and use only the bits that make sense for you. For starters, just count your active concerns. You'll be surprised at how many there are, I'm certain. Top Next Issue
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Most of us follow paths through our careers, or through life. We get nervous when we're off the path.
We feel better when we're doing what everyone else is doing. But is that sensible?
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I
- CEOs, board chairs, department heads and team leads of all kinds sometimes seek people to handle specific,
time-limited tasks. Asking the group for volunteers works fine — usually. There are alternatives.
- What have you learned today? What has enriched you, changed your understanding of the world, or given
you a new view of history or the future? Learning something new every day is a worthy goal.
- The Limits of Status Reports: I
- Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including
any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for
another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 4: Workplace Remorse
- Remorse is an unpleasant emotion. But it need not be something we suppress or avoid. It can provide a path to a positive learning experience that adds meaning to life. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
- And on March 11: Contribution Misattribution
- In teams, acknowledging people for their contributions is essential for encouraging high performance. Failing to do so can be expensive. Three patterns of Contribution misattribution are especially costly: theft, rejection/transmigration, and eliding. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.