When it comes to getting things done – whether we’re talking about David Allen’s wildly popular methodology or just the act of doing stuff – the first thing you have to do is get it all out of your head and capture it somewhere. Your brain is not meant to hold all of the stuff you have (or want) to do and keeping it all up in there will only serve to disappoint you in both the short and long term.

Knowing that you have to get it out of your head is one thing. Where you put it is an entirely different matter. Some people are great with tools of technology, such as apps on your mobile device or desktop software solutions. Others deal with this kind of stuff far better when it’s on paper. No matter which type of person you are, I’m going to unveil for you the ultimate way to get it all out – to do a “brain dump” if you will – so that you can keep moving forward instead of always looking back to see what might have slipped through the cracks.

1. Grab a pen and paper

That’s right. Even if you are someone who lives in the digital world, you need to write stuff down using simple analog tools. In fact, if you’re a technophile you’re in somewhat of a better position in that you don’t see the need to spend money on fancy pens and notebooks – you can save your money for the tech gear you want. There is something about writing something down that makes it stick; you connect better with the tasks, projects and goals you have on your plate when you write them down rather than enter them into a device.

2. Create your lists

You need to have the following headings for your list: Musts, Wants and Perhaps. Each of these heading represent the things you’ve committed to doing (Musts), the things you would like to do but haven’t committed to them yet (Wants), and the things you may want to do at some point but are far down on the priority list (Perhaps). You might need more than one sheet of paper for each list as you go, but start with the Musts, then move on to the Wants and finish up with the Perhaps. It is important that you go in that order, because that way your brain isn’t moving all over the place. It is focusing on one type of thing at a time and writing down the things that fall under that type until there are no more left to capture.

3. Criticize your lists

Now you need to honestly evaluate each list. Start with the Must list and move on until your have finished the Perhaps list. When you look at each list, use some of the principles of GTD to whittle the list down to a more manageable size. You can move stuff from one list to another during this exercise as well, but ultimately you want to wind up with the least amount of things on your Must list so that you can get to the Want list stuff that much faster.

4. Complete your lists

Once you’ve criticized and crossed things off your lists that aren’t part of your “master plan” any longer, start to complete the things on the lists. Get the Must stuff out of the way first, then move on to the Want list – maybe even moving some of the Wants to the Must list as you go. Once Wants graduate to Musts, they become more crucial to you, and that means they have a greater chance of getting done. You’ll also be able to move some the Perhaps stuff into the Want list as you go, with the Perhaps list likely being the longest list you’ve got going.

Whenever you feel as if your life is getting out of balance or you are feeling overwhelmed by everything that is on your agenda, conduct this exercise and get yourself back to a more comfortable space. Not only is the stuff you’re trying to get done worth, but so is the person trying to get it done: you.

(Photo credit: X-ray of Male Skeleton via Shutterstock)

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