Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 19;   May 8, 2019: Brain Clutter

Brain Clutter

by

The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…
Clarity

Clarity. Image by Tobias Lampert via Pixabay.

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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Entry Intimidation  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove 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 welcome

Would 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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Horses in a corralCorrales Mentales
Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
A thermometerTake Regular Temperature Readings
Team interactions are unimaginably complex. To avoid misunderstandings, offenses, omissions, and mistaken suppositions, teams need open communications. But no one has a full picture of everything that's happening. The Temperature Reading is a tool for surfacing hidden and invisible information, puzzles, appreciations, frustrations, and feelings.
Submitting a status reportStatus-Report as a Second Language
Sometimes, the clichés the losing team's players feed to sports reporters can have hidden meaning. So it is with Project Status Reports, especially for projects in trouble.
A cheeseburger with friesMy Boss Is Driving Me Nuts
When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry." These explanations are rarely legitimate.
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleDeciding to Change: Choosing
When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Representative Don Young, Republican of AlaskaComing June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
Filling a form in hardcopyAnd on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.