Out of Your Mind

“If you think unruly and unfocused committees in your company or your community can be a frustrating waste of time, try the one in your head.” ~ David Allen

According to statistics, busy professionals have an average of 200 hours of uncompleted work at any one time.  Wow. Add to that all of the commitments we make in our personal lives and managing busy households and it’s no wonder we have trouble focusing.

A good many of you, I’ll bet, keep much of what you are responsible for, and may have to do on any given day, stored away somewhere in the recesses of your brain.  The trouble with this type of storage device is that it doesn’t know when you should or shouldn’t be doing things, so your brain will often tell you that you ought to be doing something at the worst possible time.  Maybe when you’re in the middle of an important discussion at work or even worse, while you’re trying to go to sleep at night.

Productivity gurus like David Allen are absolutely adamant that the only way to maintain your sanity and actually get the important things done, is to manage all of the things you have to do in a system outside of your brain.   Your system needs to be bullet-proof, as he calls it, in order for you to remain focused and engaged.

He identifies 5 phases of managing action: 

  1. We COLLECT what we might or might not have to act on or pay attention to. 
  2. Then we PROCESS it and decide what that action is. 
  3. Next we ORGANIZE the results into: act on it now, refer to it later, or simply hold onto it for some other time. 
  4. At some point we REVIEW what we’ve organized and then eventually we . . .
  5. DO one or more of those actions.

The problem is that many of us attempt to use our brain for all of these phases of action management.  We collect information all day long through requests from others, email, text messages, social media and even self-interruptions.  Then we try to process whatever we can as quickly as possible in order to get it off the list – no mindfulness here. Much of the organization takes place in our brain (instead of a system), and we usually respond to the “latest and loudest inputs”, Allen says.  The process of reviewing is therefore incomplete as we can only remember small portions of what we should be doing at any one time. As a result, we do anything that we can to try to stop the constant busy signals our brain is sending and often retreat to the easiest things on our list instead of the most important.

What’s the answer to this dilemma? Well, the bad news is that you have to set up a reliable collection system and use it every day, throughout the day.  Whether it’s a single trusted notebook or an electronic list, get it into something as soon as it enters your brain.  Then you need to review that collection system every single day and in more detail once a week.  And finally, you should end up doing those important, priority tasks that lead to you feeling productive and in control at home and at the office.  Get Organized by design!

What have you found helpful in keeping track of everything in your brain?

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