Removing the Creative Clutter From Your Head

    October 6, 2003

Have you ever felt that you could really get something wonderful and worthwhile done if you didn’t have so many things to do? Common thought.

Your mind is so cluttered with great ideas, current projects, social obligations, long-term plans and upcoming appointments that there is no room for creativity. In fact, some days it seems amazing that any thought can make it all the way across your mind, doesn’t it?

We become immobilized, unable to make progress, even though we may be very, very busy. It’s a paradox. We are working as fast and hard as ever and still we seem to be treading water. The shore never gets any closer. That’s because your mind works in strange ways. It has no sense of past or future, so, that everything you’ve ever told yourself you should or could do, your mind thinks you should be doing right now. So, your mind sets you up for failure.

I have been caught this way. It is so self-defeating…and exhausting. So many great ideas for projects, businesses, conversations, seminars all rushing around in there….all chasing one another. So, I went looking for the magic bullet that would put an end to my misery. I looked in the obvious places: get a new organizer, a new at-a-glance something that would keep me on track, a new PDA to make everything work together; clean the office, clear out the in-box. All were promising, but none cleared the clutter from the inside, even though my office was immaculate. Problem: clean space but head still full. I only looked organized.

The search continued. Finally, a colleague told me about some ideas he had been working from that made a huge breakthrough in his organizational thinking. OK. I’ll try anything.

First key is to get all the ideas you have–and I mean ALL the ideas–on to paper or into your computer. ALL!! That is one massive mind dump. Every thought, idea, plan, project, wish, want, need, relationship, value…and then some. It’s essential to actually clear the mind of it all in order to be able to focus on one thing at a time.

That’s the beginning. Once you have every single thing–idea, object or piece of paper–in your in-box or in-bucket, then, and only then, you begin to process. Cleanse first, then clarify.

Pick up each item from the in-dumpster. Do you know what to do with it or about it?

Decide if it is actionable. What is the next action step you need to take on each item? The best organizing guru I know, David Allen* says that if the answer is ‘No!’ then it’s either trash needing to go, something that might need to be done later (incubate) , or potentially useful information that might be needed for something later. In that case, it’s a reference piece. Makes sense. You can now manage these three categories. If the answer is ‘Yes”, you have to figure out the next action to take. David Allen says then you have to do it, delegate it or defer it. And the system continues.

The first and most important part, though, is getting your mind clear of clutter so that you can bring your complete attention to the task at hand. You have taken care of those fleeting thoughts. You’ve captured them on paper or on screen. You have decided on the next action step for each item. Now, you’re ready for action. Your presence of mind will improve. You can easily bring your mind to one thing at a time.

This is the key to being…and feeling…truly organized. Stress is reduced. Focus returns. Clarity is restored. You know what to do. You are back to being productive and you’re swimming in the right direction. Great system!

* Read David Allen’s excellent books, Getting Things Done! and Ready for Anything. You can get them at along with others I recommend.

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD All rights reserved.

International speaker, coach, author & talk radio host,
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