This past Saturday I woke up at my normal hour and headed into Starbucks to get a couple of hours of work in before family activities started for the weekend. About an hour in, I realized how horribly unproductive I had been. Almost nothing was complete.
As I processed what had been going on, I realized that I had been jumping from one task to the next without even thinking about it. I had started 57 different things and hadn’t made an ounce of progress on more than sending a couple of simple emails.
I began to feel overwhelmed. My mind felt clouded. All of a sudden I began to dread the rest of the day. I was having a horrible time focusing. As I pondered why, I made an interesting observation.
It turns out that the clutter in my mind was reflective of the clutter in my life. Over the past several weeks I had failed to stay on top of our household bills, my honey-do list, and several other things that were now overwhelming me. The daunting pile of mail, the collection of items to put away, and the list of chores I knew needed to get done hung over my head.
It felt like there was no way out.
Simply put, my mind had too much to process and the responsibilities of life were weighing on me. What could I do to turn the tide?
That afternoon, I bunkered down in my home office to dig out of the hole. This time around, I was determined to make progress, and so I took an audacious step.
I gathered every piece of clutter and created a huge pile in the middle of the floor.
The mail I hadn’t gone through. The bills I needed to pay. The sport coat I never hung up. The lightbulb I needed to change. The files I needed to organize. Every single item was thrown on the pile – right in the middle of the office floor.
I stepped back and delighted in my “to-do” pile.
What that pile gave me was a finite list. It contained everything that needed to be done. It gave me a way to visualize my progress. It gave me a queue and a feeling for how much I had left to do, and how much needed to be done.
I have found so many times that the clutter in our minds grows exponentially with the clutter in our lives. Our minds become dull when they are overwhelmed and continually trying to ensure that they don’t forget this thing or that.
The next time you’re overwhelmed, try making a comprehensive list or an exhaustive pile. This will help you see the finite nature of what needs to get done – regardless of how big. It will also help get your mental checklist out of your head and into reality so that your brain can focus on the task instead of just tracking everything else that needs to get done.