black cat next to a flower pot tipped on its side and dirt and wheat grass on the ground.

first steps to taming the chaos

After taking a break and discovering you have written down everything you can for your brain dump you may feel even more overwhelmed. It’s ok. I’ve been there too. I hope that these next steps will help you begin to feel in control of the chaos. These are the steps I use to turn this jumble of thoughts into my trustworthy second brain that guides my days.

The very next step after writing everything down is to sort. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy this step. As a computer scientist, sorting algorithms are one of the first ones we learn to code, so I love finding new ways to find order.

Until I’m confident in my projects, I first begin with a high level sort.

Step One: Divide

I take a clean sheet of paper and fold it in half and label one column Personal and the other Work. If you have a big third area in your life, go ahead and divide into thirds. I wouldn’t subdivide beyond four main areas at this point.

Step Two: Sort

Yes, I rewrite my list at this point moving systematically down and applying each item to its appropriate column. While I am sorting at this step, I am not yet prioritizing or further organizing the items. Some are projects, some are tasks, and at these first stages it’s still a bit messy.

Step Three: Repeat

Now I choose one of my columns and divide it again. For example, in Work my next divide it would be into my two businesses. On the next iteration I’ll begin to look for the projects within the business, at first it might be Active Clients and Development before I break down into the specific project phase.

Why so many small steps?

I’ve found that when I jump from brain dump straight to assigning tasks to projects I quickly become bogged down in the details and I do often get distracted and try to do all the small “quick” tasks. It’s also easy to then miss a project by mistakenly assigning it as a task that then gets overlooked.

Upcoming Posts:

Cat with upended plant pot of messAfter this post I’ll be on a biweekly posting schedule on the first and third Wednesday of each month. What will happen on the fifth Wednesday? We’ll find out! The newsletter will be at the end of the month on Tuesdays, are you signed up?

Upcoming topics include:

  • Why I no longer colour code handwritten tasks and use a shape system instead.
  • Language to use (and avoid) when writing tasks.
  • My do or due philosophy.