Friday, February 17, 2012

Clearing Out The Clutter

I discovered two things this week. First, I discovered that "mind dumping" does work. For those of you who have not yet heard of it, this is the super-sized manifestation of a number of old ideas. The basic concept is that you sit down . . . . or, I suppose pacing back and forth with a recording device in your hand also would work. However you do it, the idea is that you get everything on your mind out of your head and there in front of you.

The result is a "to-do list" gone mad. You list not just the top five items you need to get done today or this week or month or year. Instead, you dump out everything that you need to, want to, ought to, and/or should get done. You include nagging irritants like the leaking bathroom faucet (fix it or call a plumber) or the address book that you need to update or the birthday reminder system you need to set up. Little stuff and big stuff, you get it all out of you head. Dump it all on paper or wherever you prefer to record it.

The idea is that by clearing out the clutter, you relieve the constant distraction and stress of having so many things to do that you can't focus on any one of them. You see it all, and you can then get organized.

Now, I have to admit that I encountered this concept on a plane or a train a year or so ago. I don't remember if I saw it in a book I'd picked up at a newsstand or a magazine on the plane or train. I know I thought it interesting enough to pull out some paper and try it out. But it seems that when I got to my destination, I forgot about it in the rush of all I needed to do. I rediscovered the concept again this week when I was looking for a folder that I couldn't find (the filing system that I need to update). Instead I found that piece of paper from my trip. Defeated in my effort to find my file, I sat down to complain on paper about all of the things I needed to get done and all of the "little" things that were holding me back. I tried "mind dumping"-- this time taking it seriously.
At the risk of sounding like an actor in a commercial for a pain killer, I got instant relief. Seeing that I had six pages of big and small tasks to get done sometime in my lifetime should have scared me silly. But instead I suddenly felt in control. I broke the list up into categories, with a separate category for the constantly irritating. I generated a tick-off to-do list of errands, and my mood improved by 100%. I did this about three days ago, and since then I've been carrying my master list around and adding to it as other tasks come up or occur to me.

And it's working. I feel energized. I'm not staring at the piles of paper on my desk wondering where to start. I've called my contractor and gotten to the post office.

I'm impressed by this because I am a chronic list-maker. I have been since I was in college. I love those days when I "work" my list and can see what I've accomplished at the end of the day. But it seems I had gotten to the point when there was so much to get done that no list I had come up with was handling all the stress-making clutter in my mind..

That brings me to the other discovery I made this week. I tackled a need-to-get-done that I had been putting off -- the "Author's Note" about the historical facts in my new mystery. Yesterday, I went to the university library and indulged myself in shelf-browsing. And there in front of me was an eight volume set from the 1930s covering all of the plays performed in New York City theaters during the 19th century. This set of books had not turned up in my online search. The reference librarian hadn't mentioned them because I had asked her about an actress about whom I could find little information. But there in front of me were dusty volumes with the answers to all of the questions that I should have asked. Eureka!

And that is why I am writing in praise of "mind dumping". The process did not give me more time. But it has given me the sense of being in control. Without all those things I should be doing and was probably forgetting nibbling at my mind, I was relaxed enough to browse the library shelves. Able to focus on that single task, I found what I needed.

I should mention that this week, I've also came up with the title for the second book in the new series and wrote a plot summary. I may be acccomplishing more because I'm getting more exercise and eating right or because the stars are (for the moment) aligned. But, for now, I'm going to give a lot of the credit to clearing the clutter out of my head.

Anyone else had good results doing this?


Rick Blechta said...

Frankie, this is akin to something I do when I can't sleep because I'm stewing about things. It's too involved a process to talk about in a comment, but it might make an interesting post.

I'm going to pass your technique on to my wife who also loves making lists. Me? I rely on my iCal program to keep me organized and on time. Since I started using it extensively a few years ago, I've been ever so much better about getting things done. The odd benefit is that in the process of making my entry for a particular date, it tends to get engraved on my sieve-like memory to the point where I often don't need the iCal reminder it sends me in an email.

Great post! Thanks for the tips.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Rick. I'd like to hear more about your techniques. I am about to look up the iCal program.

Rick Blechta said...

iCal is awesome, really, and for those on PCs, I'm sure there's another program available for that. iCal will allow you to record dates in various categories, send you emails or flash a notice on your screen at times you set. You can also send invitations to those "events" you choose, and so on and so on.

It has really helped me organize my life. I can't recommend it highly enough.

I'll write a post about how I manage to get back to sleep at night.

Vicki Delany said...

Organize? What's that?