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? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.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.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
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:
- Personal Trade Secrets
- Do you have some little secret tricks you use that make you and your team more effective? Do you wish
you could know what secret tricks others have? Here's a way to share your secrets without risk.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Why Don't They Believe Me?
- When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor.
How does this happen?
- Constancy Assumptions
- We necessarily make assumptions about our lives, including our work, because assumptions simplify things.
And usually, our assumptions are valid. But not always.
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of
detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing
with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info