The Weekly Routine That Clears Your Mind And Helps You Work Smarter

Having a million things on your mind is no excuse for not doing your best work. A weekly mind sweep might be just what you need.

Before you engage in any focused or creative work, you need to prepare yourself both physically and mentally. Trying to think big and think well is nearly impossible if you're exhausted or distracted.

One of the leading sources of distraction is the act of trying to remember all the little tasks and commitments in your life, which can lead to cognitive overload. By getting these tasks and assignments out of your head and onto paper, you can free up space in your mind to focus and think more clearly.

This technique comes from David Allen and the Getting Things Done system I learned years ago, and still use today. It's called a mind sweep, and it improves your ability to engage in critical thinking and decision making by freeing up your mind from the burden of trying to remember.

Here is the process I use.

I start by getting myself into a calm and quiet space, breathing deeply for a minute or two. Once I'm relaxed, I use the following list of topics as prompts to ask myself what tasks or commitments are on my mind. I reflect for a minute or two after going through each category to allow things to bubble to the surface.

Then I simply write my thoughts on a sheet a paper as they come up. I don't process anything then, but rather set them aside to review later. By getting them out of my head and onto the sheet, my mind is free from the work of trying to remember and is now ready to engage in new tasks with better focus.

The goal of a mind sweep is to get things that are burdening your thinking out of your head and onto paper. You don't need to come up with new ideas and you may not have thoughts for every category. And it's OK if you miss things. Clearing up even a little space will make you more productive for your next task.

Category 1: Core needs and personal wellness

Stress -- sleep, rest, meditation, relaxation, mental focus Diet -- eating, drinking, nutrition, hydration

Fitness -- exercise, strength, stretching, aches and pains, personal care

Health -- medical, dental, eyes, hearing, skin, mental health, exams, tests

Fun -- travel, hobbies, sports, learning, personal development, reading, entertainment, socializing

Category 2: Family and friends

Significant Other -- anniversaries, birthdays, gratitude and appreciation, open items, planning, family events

Kids -- education/school, quality time, birthdays, events, activities, appointments, friends

Relatives -- parents, grandparents, grandkids, extended family, in-laws, upcoming events

Friends -- events, activities, support, planning

Social -- organizations, religion, community, events

Calendar -- birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, school breaks, religious events, reunions, festivals

Category 3: Personal environment and belongings

Home -- cleaning, organizing, improvements, maintenance, protection, supplies

Personal -- clothing, electronics, personal belongings, sentimental items

Property -- real estate, cars, boats, sports equipment, tools, storage spaces/units

Category 4: Career and professional development

Education -- training, certifications, conferences, workshops, online courses

Planning -- goals, mentoring, coaching, resume, bio, online profile

Networking -- targets, follow-ups, events, social, lunches/coffees, social media

Category 5: Work projects and commitments

Management -- status reports, risk management, open decisions, systems, communications, budgets/forecasts

People -- meetings, performance reviews, coaching, compensation, hiring

HR -- compensation, payroll, benefits, enrollments, reimbursements, reviews

Category 6: Finances and long-term planning

Payables -- mortgage, rent, maintenance, insurance, credit cards, loans, utilities, subscriptions, services, taxes

Assets -- real estate, bank accounts, commodities, safety deposit boxes, loans

Investments -- IRA, 401(k), diversification/allocations, tax planning, inheritance, charitable giving

Long-Term Planning -- college/education, retirement, insurance, health care directive, will, documentation

Category 7: Community and social responsibility

Local Community -- neighbors, civic groups, schools, community groups

Elections/Politics -- local, state, federal, school board, judges, law enforcement

Organizations -- religion, social services, food banks, volunteering, charities, education, alma mater

These prompts are based on my life and the world I live in. I'm sure you'll have others you'll need to add and some you'll want to delete. I revise my list as things change and I find items to add or delete. I put this list in a repeating calendar event, which I set up to get emailed to me once a week, so I can remember to go through the process again and stay fresh and focused.

Having this list handy will make your mind sweep easier, faster, and more effective. And once you get into the habit of doing this regularly, you'll find you're more productive and less stressed knowing that you have things organized and under control. This will free you up to think bigger and more clearly.

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