You have too much going on in your head right now. If your head is swimming with thoughts and plans for the future or memories of the past or maybe just stuck on a reoccurring thought that will not resolve itself, you will benefit from the following exercises.
You need to be present in this moment in order to better understand who you really are, so let’s clear your head now of some of the thoughts and make some space for a new experience.
Reclaim your attention
Let’s get you to let go of the endless chatter for just a few minutes and try to help you get your thoughts organized in a way that will actually help you put them aside. We’re going to do a few exercises to get your attention back on the present moment as fast as possible. The exercises will take 1-5 minutes each. By the end of the exercises you will feel significantly more present and focused.
Breathe (1 minute)
I know that it’s the last thing you want to do right now, but you need to take a minute and breathe to get back in control of your thoughts. If your thoughts are really entangled, you may find yourself refusing to do this simple exercise because it takes you away from your seemingly important chatter. That’s fine, do it anyway – you have that power over your thoughts. it’s only a minute – less time than it takes you to find some other distraction. I’m here to help you get to a place where you are no longer lost in thought and have some real focus again so you can actually make progress. Trust in the process, I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wouldn’t help.
We’re going to make this breathing exercise super simple. You need to do something called box breathing. It’s simple technique to put your mind back in a state where you have a bit less attachment to your thoughts.
Box breathing is as simple as 4 steps. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath in for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4 and then hold your breath (out) for a count of 4. Repeat this for 4 rounds (which will come out to just about a minute).
You don’t need perfect technique here, just try to hit roughly 4 seconds on each step. If you can’t hold your breath in or out for the full 4 seconds, don’t worry about it, just try to get close and keep going for the full 4 rounds.
Do box breathing for a minute and then continue on to the other exercises.
If you are unable to do this exercise on your own, I can guide you through a focus meditation that does the same.
Brain dump (5 minutes)
You need to honor your thoughts if they are stuck in your head. You need to get your thoughts from your head to a more permanent place so you can continue without worry about forgetting something you think is important.
Stop and make some notes. Get a sheet of paper or pull up your favorite notepad app and put “Brain Dump” at the top. Now do a brain dump – a stream of consciousness style list of every thought currently in your head. If you can’t keep up while taking notes, put short words or phrases or even scribbles or symbols to represent the more complex thoughts until you feel you have most of them recorded in some way. Don’t worry, you will come back and make this more organized/refined. Right now just note everything as it comes and when you are done, take about a minute to fill in any gaps you think might prevent you from remembering the gist of each item on your list.
Do your brain dump and then continue to the other exercises.
If you can’t even get things onto paper or in a note, you may need to go back and do the focus meditation.
Categorize your thoughts (5 minutes)
Go through your notes and put them into categories. We’re going to use a simple and powerful tool to help do this called an Eisenhower Matrix.
You are going to move your list of thoughts into a grid like the one here.
Sort your thoughts into the appropriate row & column. The items that go into important and urgent cell need your attention and you’ll need to work on getting those done or resolving them very soon (not right this minute though). The ones in the important but not urgent cell are going to be added to a calendar to work on later. The ones that are not important but urgent, you are going to delegate to someone else. Finally the ones in the not urgent and not important cell you are going to let go of.
This won’t work for every thought. It primarily works for task related thoughts, but I find that it does get the real world tasks out of my head and the beginnings of a plan together for them, and that allows me some more space to look more effectively at the thoughts that are more complicated. At the very least it helps you to identify the thoughts that seem more important that others so you know where to focus your efforts if necessary.
At this point you have your thoughts down in a way that you can look back on and you should have enough clarity to move forward.
I’ll come back to this post and really walk you through the rest of the process later. For now I’ll give you a brief list of steps:
- Add “Do First” items to your calendar
- If it takes 2 minutes to do an item, do it now.
- Put the things that can’t be moved first.
- Schedule remaining things from most important to least important
- Leave gaps of 1/2 the time you think it will take to do the task between it and the next task (if it will take 3 hours, don’t schedule anything closer than 1.5 hours after it.)
- Be realistic and kind to yourself and don’t schedule too many difficult things in a single day if possible.
- Add the “schedule” items to your calendar
- Follow the same steps as above.
- Delegate the unimportant but urgent items to someone else you trust can handle it.
- Notify the people that you need to keep in the loop when you scheduled something.
- Work through the calendar items.