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Tips to manage your mental checklist

May 23, 2022
We all have a lot on our minds, but with a few mental exercises you can learn to manage the load.

I once read that ordinary people could keep track of seven things in their heads. That’s a lot of mental balls to juggle and seems more of an extraordinary feat to this ordinary guy, at least. But as a thought experiment, humor me and do a quick inventory of the items you have to remember right now. Include your appointments, critical action items you promised, family plans, chores, “round tuits” (those tasks you’ll do when you get around to it), and everything else. It’s not easy.

To remember more than seven things, and keep them from getting lost in some dark corner of the hippocampus, we may repeat them to ourselves. The problem with this method is that it requires a lot of cerebral processing power. That brainpower is not available for anything else and diminishes overall efficiency.

Tying up your brain by trying to remember things is also draining and might overwhelm you at times. And these thoughts can intrude at times when you need your brain at full capacity. Well, guess what? Here’s a simple exercise that can help you regain processing power and manage your “worry list”:

  • Sit quietly for five full minutes and allow your thoughts and worries to surface.
  • Write down each thought, concern, or worry. The worries that pop up are the things you are trying not to forget. They are also consuming some of your processing power.
  • Try to execute some of the things you’ve listed or at least add them to your calendar.
  • Make a list to free up processing capacity.
  • Write down annoying, intrusive thoughts about an objective that is incomplete. These often invade your cranium and keep you from finishing tasks. This is known as the Zeigarnik effect.

Women’s leadership and mindfulness expert Vanessa Loder recommends a similar strategy. She proposes doing a mind dump. Take no more than five minutes and write down everything you can think of that you need to do the following week, whether it be personal, professional, or both. Then put the list away. This list is not your to-do list; this list is a data dump—a psychic release.

The reality is that all too often, you are not in control of your time. When you are not in control of most of your time, it is essential to control what little time is left.

A dozen ideas to deal with time

Here are a dozen more ways to deal with time and help you juggle all those balls (adapted from my book, 10 Minutes a Week to Great Time Management [, 2019]:

  • Learn when to say NO!
  • Do the task you’re least looking forward to first.
  • Set aside specific times for checking email and social media accounts. Avoid checking emails except during these times.
  • Distractions are all around you, some as near as your phone, laptop, tablet, and desktop. The best way to deal with distractions is to schedule the interruptions so you get a “reward” after a few hours of work.
  • Consider blocking distractions when doing important work and following up later once your job is complete.
  • Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you must get work done.
  • Place an item on the chair next to your desk when you are working on something and don’t want to be disturbed. When people come in to chat, they don’t sit down or stay long. A master professional engineer suggested this simple technique to minimize interruptions.
  • Silence the phone. Sometimes, silence is critical. Turn off alerts and the cell phone ringer—this is what voice mail is for.
  • Use headphones to help tune out any distractions.
  • Take a break and walk around.
  • Train yourself to always complete what you start. Going back to email, for example, will always cost you time.
  • Carry a journal or use your smartphone to record all your thoughts. They are golden nuggets for your life.
About the Author

Joel Levitt | President, Springfield Resources

Joel Levitt has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations in 24 countries. He is the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues He is also the designer of Laser-Focused Training, a flexible training program that provides specific targeted training on your schedule, online to one to 250 people in maintenance management, asset management and reliability.  

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