W ith summer around the corner, I’m happy to report that the bulk of our spring cleaning has been completed. We’ve washed the windows, cleaned the deck, and the flower beds are sporting fresh mulch. How about you? Have you completed all your spring cleaning? Are you ready to attack summer with gusto?
If you’re like many of my clients, you may answer that with a weak “maybe”. They often find themselves challenged by colliding thoughts and overwhelming to do lists. Important tasks are forgotten. Long term desires and goals are ignored because we never “have the time” to put them in our schedules.
In order to live life in the zone, you must get clear about what’s important. You may find, however, that the volume of thoughts swirling around in your mind interferes with your ability to prioritize and make productive use of your time. When that happens, it’s time to Spring Clean Your Brain. (For those David Allen fans out there, you’ll know this nifty tool is a modified version of the Brain Dump)
Here’s what you need: a stack of 3×5 cards, a pen and an egg timer.
Step One: Completely Unplug
Turn off your phone and computer. Trust me, that text can be returned in five minutes and no one will perish if an email isn’t immediately read. Unplugging should be a regular part of your life, but for now, I’m only asking you to unplug for five short minutes.
Step Two: Set the Timer for 5 Minutes. Then. Just Write.
Write down every thought that comes in your head. Just put one thought per index card and keep trucking along. Don’t try to analyze the thoughts, just write. WRITE and clear your thoughts until the timer goes off OR your mind goes blank.
Step Three: Walk away.
Now that you’ve emptied your mind, give yourself the gift of a few moments away from your clutter. Call a friend, return your email, have some lunch or go for a bike ride. You know that every thought that’s been praying on your mind is in a safe place, so enjoy it!
Step Four: Organize
After you’ve enjoyed a break, go back to your cards and begin to organize them into areas. Every person is different, but for me personally, I usually have stacks for errands, business to-dos, personal correspondence, writing topics, and utter randomness.
Step Five: Prioritize and Delete
Stephen Covey has a great way of organizing our times by placing activities into quadrants based on the intersection of urgency and importance. Take a hard look at your cards and as you begin to prioritize them in importance and urgency. You’ll likely realize that many of the things occupying your brain fall into what Covey would call Quadrant 3 (Urgent, but not Important) and Quadrant 4 (Not Urgent, Not Important). Personally, I am often amazed with the sheer volume of things that consumes my thoughts, yet brings no real value to my life. Know what you do get to do with those things that fall in Quadrants 3 & 4? Choose this time to delete them from your life. Take pleasure in throwing those cards in the trash (maybe ripping some of them up) while embracing the symbolism of removing unimportant thoughts and tasks from your life.
Rinse often, and repeat. Like physical clutter, mental clutter can accumulate quickly. If you regularly Spring Clean your brain, you’ll find your days are more productive, allowing you to focus your precious thoughts and time on what really matters. Life’s too short to waste precious time doing stuff that doesn’t bring value to your life.
(Image is “Good Looking” by E.B. Segner)