Crowded mind? Here's how to take the pressure off

If there is one thing guaranteed to hamper your efforts at writing – particularly when writing is just one of numerous things you're trying to do – it is an overly crowded mind. How can you expect to think creatively if your head is full of 'stuff'? It's like trying to find a gemstone in a rubbish tip.

We all know how it goes. You wake up remembering that you need to ring your mother for her birthday. Then you get on with your day. Mid-morning, that task floats across your mind again. It returns at lunchtime, again mid-afternoon and again just before dinner. Then again ... late in the evening when it's too late to call.

Multiply that one thing by the multiple other things that will cross your mind during the day and you will quickly realise why your brain feels so full all the time.

Productivity guru David Allen has been preaching this point for years. His book, Getting Things Done (recently completely rewritten), and the philosophy espoused in it, provides a guiding light through the gloom of information and 'to do' overload. With thousands of diehard adherents, 'GTD' could almost be called a religion.

One of David's mantras is that "your head is a place for having ideas, not for holding them"

I touched on this notion a few weeks ago when I wrote about the importance of capturing your ideas as soon as they appear lest they melt away. This week's post is really a corollary of that, because if you want that next great idea to appear in the first place, it needs space in which to grow.

That means constantly keeping your head as clean and tidy as you possibly can. Which, in a world in which we are constantly bombarded with information and requests, means clearing your mind of all those things that come to mind as you move through every day.

How? It's really very simple.

What it boils down to is "capturing the things that capture your attention" – so that they don't keep capturing your attention over and over again. And the best way to do that capturing is just as we did with our ideas: by recording them in some way. Notepad, smartphone, voice recorder, biro on your palm ... whatever.

The choice is yours. All that matters is that when you remember that you need to ring your mother for her birthday, you note that down in a way that you will be able to rediscover later in the day. Then you can get on with your day safe in the knowledge that, when you review things later, a reminder (and your mother) will be there waiting for you.

There's a lot more to GTD than this: the 'capture' step is just the start. And I have to admit that over the years I've swung between using it well and hardly using it at all. But that's my weakness, not GTD's. Certainly the 'capture' idea has kept my head clear, most of the time, for a long time.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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