I often hear people say that they have so much to do, so much on their mind and are overwhelmed. I think a lot of us can relate to this.
Here is how I deal with a situation like this.
Step 1: Write it out
Take a piece of paper and a pen (or if you’re like me, open a new document in your chosen word processing application) and start writing down everything that is cluttering up your brain. Don’t worry about grammar or style or categories at this moment. It’s like you’re trying to sweep out the clutter in your brain onto a piece of paper where you can see it clearly.
When I say write down everything, I mean everything. Did you need to pick up a bottle of dish soap? Write it down. Did you come up with a brilliant idea, while taking a shower, that you can test at work tomorrow? Write it down. You've meant to call your friend last week? Write it down. Don’t worry if your list looks silly...no one is going to see this but you.
Step 2: Create to-do lists by category
Did you write down everything that was floating in your mind? Is everything transferred onto the piece of paper in front of you? Good.
Now, let’s go over what you wrote down and group them into categories.
Obviously, everyone’s categories are different, but yours might include a shopping list, an errands list, a dream vacation list, a new-restaurants-to-check-out list, a try-these-new-exercises list, a measures-to-take-with-a-difficult-colleague list, an important-philosophical-question list, a what-worries-me-right-now list, and so on.
(And in case you're wondering, yes, they are my actual lists though I don't call them by the exact names listed above. Some of my lists are much weirder, ha ha.)
Each item under the lists should include one thing only so once you’ve done it, you can cross it out. So for example, if you need to take your child out for a haircut and a flu shot, don’t write down “haircut and flu shot.” A haircut and a flu shot should be different items unless you are sure to get them done on the same day.
Step 3: Use the lists
Cross out items as you complete the tasks, and add to the lists as needed. I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I cross out or delete finished tasks. And it's a great feeling.
Some items are easier to complete while others may take years. Either way, in my experience, to-do lists on a piece of paper seem much less daunting than the one in my head. It's because once you can see and itemize what's on your mind, it’s easier to make plans to tackle these items.
I update some of the lists daily to place the day's priority items on top of the list. I sometimes break down the item into further sub items. For example, if I were taking my child to a clinic to get a flu shot, I might list following sub-items under "flu shot": 1) call to see if an appointment is needed, 2) get change for parking, 3) make sure to bring her health care card.
Creating sub-items can be helpful, especially when you are tackling a complex task. Think of big tasks as a group of little tasks. Break them down into small enough pieces so you can get your hands on them without much effort. It's a divide and conquer strategy.
In short, decluttering your head is very similar to decluttering any other space. You would need to examine each item that is cluttering up your mind, but first, you must be able to see what's in there.