A busy mind is an overwhelming place to live. We have so many things to do and so addicted to getting things done that we become oblivious to what’s happening around us. When we are at work, we think about things to do at home. When we are at home, we think about things to do at work. It can make us feel as if the world is spinning out of control and there’s no end to it. It’s not only you but also most of us.
When we have something on our mind that is important – things that we’re afraid that we’ll forget, our brain keep tossing it around and around in something called a rehearsal loop. It’s quite effective in remembering things but the problem is that it works too well. It keeps items in rehearsal until we deal with somehow and worse yet, much of it comes at the wrong time.
This constant nagging in our mind of undone, incomplete tasks pull us out of the present leading us never fully focus in the moment and enjoying what’s now. Furthermore, our brain is an energy hog. Simple tasks (i.e. watching TV, scrolling social media) that don’t seem to require any effort, do in fact consume our mental energy. Instead of expending our energy in worrying that we might forget something and in trying not to forget, let’s start with the basics.
Simply write it down. It’s basic but it’s important to get them out of your head. When we externalise our thoughts, it relaxes our neural circuits and clears our mental clutter so we can focus on what we want to focus on. It also gives your mind the opportunity to examine the tasks or your thoughts visually. That means, we’re able to see what we already know from a different angle, and who knows, you might have an “aha” moment.
To ensure your mind is clear during the day, dedicate a small amount of time in the early morning or late evening to externalise. Keep in mind that not all tasks are created equal – some are important, and some of them aren’t important. There are things we should do today, there are things to do this week, there are things that can wait and there are things that maybe we shouldn’t do at all.
If we want to make the most of our limited time and energy, focus on completing the tasks that will make a huge difference first, before working on anything else. When creating our to-do list, it’s useful to ask ourselves:
- What are the three most important things that I need to do today?
- What are the things that – if I got them done today that would make a huge difference?
- What do I need to complete by the end of this week?
- What can I do this weekend that will help me to reset the following week?
- What are the things that are nice to do, but don’t make any difference(for now)?
- What do I need to “let go” and let others do it?
However, at times, things happen and we’ll have to shift our priorities. If you write it on a post-it note, you can easily rearrange the order of importance, move it from one to another and just dispose of it when it’s been dealt with.
Of course, a post-it note system isn’t for everyone. You may consider using index cards or a notebook. It’s okay if one doesn’t work for you, don’t feel bad about it – it’s called learning. Just keep trying and find out what works best for you.
On top of that, creating a list of categories is even more helpful before we sort out our to-do list. Our brain is not capable of treating every item as unique. Otherwise, we would experience a great cognitive overload to process everything around us. Just as we categorise animals into different groups, we do the same for our tasks. Perhaps your categories are more like some of these:
Keep This In Mind
We only have so much time and energy to get things done every day. Be rest assured that you are doing what you need to be doing, and it’s okay to not be doing what you are not doing. Trust that you will make it happen, maybe not now, but you will. If you notice your mind is racing all over the place again – go back to basics. Don’t let it pulls you out of your present moment and unintentionally neglecting what’s really matters. All in all, you are way more important than your tasks.