When your brain is full of all the tasks you need to complete, you are expending a lot of energy trying to keep track of it all. Keeping everything in your head is also a great source of stress, and so is worrying about forgetting to do the things you need to do.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, with your mind jumping from topic to topic, bouncing around like a pinball, the solution is to get everything down in a system. This can take the form of a handwritten list in a notebook or on a whiteboard; or an electronic format like a spreadsheet, the task lists provided by Google and Outlook, or a stand-alone program. My personal favourite is Evernote, which syncs my notes and tasks across devices and online.
I keep two main lists:
I have a list of all the things I need to get done – big and small. I review and update each item’s priority and status each morning while reviewing my calendar for the day.
I have a separate place where I keep track of all of my current projects alongside a list of “potential projects” that are in their very early stages of development.
With these lists, I have places where I can dump a very large percentage of the noise from my brain. If something needs to get done, I add it to the to-do list; if I get an idea related to a project, or someone gives me some info I need, I add it to my note for that project.
If you get the stuff out of your head, your brain no longer has to keep a hold of it. The information is safe and easily accessible. Knowing this sets your brain free to be more in the moment, thereby helping you become a better leader.
If you want to go deep with improving your personal productivity and reducing your stress at work and at home, I highly recommend the book that brought this learning into my life, Getting Things Done by David Allen. Allen reminds us, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” I couldn’t agree more.