Spring Clean Your Open Items

Now that spring is in full swing, it’s time to take on that honored tradition of spring cleaning.  Yes, that means opening your desk drawers, confronting your supply closet and cleaning out your pencil cup.

I often find that when I start spring cleaning my mind becomes flooded with open items that are unresolved. Open items are the tasks, to-do’s, projects, goals, ideas and actions (business or personal) that you need or want to do, but have not yet done. They may be things you need to get done today, or be as far off in the future as retirement.

A good dose of spring cleaning will often bring to the surface a whole slew of these open items. The trick then is to gather them together by writing them down so that you don’t have to waste valuable mental real estate trying to keep track of them.

Think of your brain like your computer’s hard drive – it can only hold so much information. When a hard drive reaches its capacity, it starts to slow down and wonky things happen. By capturing your open items on a list your brain is freed up to focus on what’s in front of you right now.

Just taking the time to capture all the open items in your life and write them down can dramatically improve your ability to focus and get things done. So to drain your brain for spring, do the following:

  • Go through all your physical spaces at work and home. Look through your desk drawers, desktop, in-basket, office closets, cupboards, shelves and file drawers and make a master to-do list of anything that needs to be done based on what you see. For example, as you look through your file drawer, perhaps you need to: Clean out last years financial file and store the receipts; make file folder labels for the most recently added documents; follow up with a potential client, whose business card you found stuck in one of the folders.
  • Go through your electronic spaces. Look through your email inbox, PDA and voicemail messages and add any action items to the existing master to-do list that you are not going to handle immediately and are not recorded elsewhere. This could include, for example: An email from a colleague requesting you make a few changes to a report you wrote; a voice message from a customer about possible dates for a conference; an email from your professional association announcing their fund raiser.
  • Go through your own brain. Look through your own mind and using the source list above write down any relevant to-do items. Once you have done this final emptying out, you can keep this system squeaky clean by adding to your master to-do list anything that pops into your head.

Some people prefer to keep a master list of all these various and sundry to-do items and transfer them to a daily or weekly to-do list as needed. Others prefer a detailed breakdown of the master list into more defined categories.

While this is just a simple way to get started, if you get really into it – and find you’re running high on all the juice your generating from capturing your open items – you might like to consider using a system like Getting Things Done (GTD). GTD’s inventor, David Allen, also has a new book out, “Making It All Work.” I haven’t read it yet, but my husband has it by his nightstand and he’s been reading bits and pieces, here and there.  It contains a detailed process for capturing your open to-do items and a whole system for how to process them.

What tips do you have for getting unresolved open items out of your head and organized?

Photo by stock.xchng user lusi