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
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