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Finish tasks to clear your mind

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Finish tasks to clear your mind

Scott Miker

I work in a very complex environment. I oversee the operations of a growing business and in doing so have to be aware of many different areas of the business.

There are technical aspects, logistical aspects, customer service aspects etc. I often go through my day with more and more tasks accumulating that need completed.

One thing that I noticed was that I couldn’t possibly tackle everything at once. I also can’t tackle whatever problem surfaces at that exact moment. Many days I am working to complete one task while two or three more pop up before I finish the first.

I’ve noticed something interesting while working in this environment for several years now. First, I have to be incredibly organized to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks.

The second thing that I learned is that when there are important tasks that aren’t in a completed state, they seem to pull me away from the task at hand. It is almost like they are open files in my head. If I can close them, my mind is free to focus on whatever important problem comes up.

I’ve developed some unique techniques to help. Instead of trying to fully complete a task I break it down and schedule it out. If I can’t do everything now because I have to coordinate with several people and need to wait for responses before I can tackle the next aspect, I use my calendar to set reminders. I send out the emails and instructions and then “close the file” in my mind. The next day (or whatever date and time I chose) the calendar event pops up to prompt me to take the next steps.

It helps me to be able to keep everything progressing while making sure I don’t have unrealistic expectations from people to respond immediately.

I’ve developed dozens of way to keep things organized and progressing while still making sure I can “close the file” in my mind. I never want to be in a situation where I have to remember something important by memory alone. Instead I use my calendar, to do lists, reminders etc. to file away all of that information so it pops up when I can take action again.

What I found is that this clears my mind. Instead of constantly running through all the things I need to do in my mind, I simply develop tools to help me keep a clear head while still knowing that I am getting done what needs to be done.

In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors say, “This research, and many studies in the following decades, confirmed what became known as the Zeigarnik effect: Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal reached, however, this stream of reminders comes to a stop.”

So if you find yourself with a cluttered mind, develop organizational systems that you can use to clean up the mess. Learn to close each item and confidently know that it will come up again when it is appropriate to tackle the next element.

It may take a little planning and tweaking of your organizational systems but the rewards are incredible. Having clarity to tackle tasks and being able to relax throughout hectic days allow you to get more done but remain calm and in control while you do it.

There are plenty of books out there that can help develop organizational systems. Research them and try different strategies until you find some that work for you. Combine various approaches, use technology to assist you and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier things become.

This is part of the reason why we can become content and happy without becoming complacent. We can learn better ways to do things (systems) and then do them over and over turning them to habit. Then we can gain more and more benefit while remaining happy and in control.

So remember, the key to having a clear mind is to be able to complete tasks and not leave them hanging over your head, distracting you at every step.