It's so incredibly easy to become overwhelmed by everything that we have to get done in any given day. Apart from our work itself, we are bombarded with emails, phone calls and smses that demand our attention. It's as if we have to juggle 10 plates at the same time and when we get the phone call that our child is sick and we need to leave work early to fetch her, one or more of those plates will inevitably fall and we become more stressed and more overwhelmed. Eventually we go into a complete frenzy, heading towards burnout, unable to cope with the thousands of things we have to remember and attend to on any given day.

The good news is that you are not alone and that there are solutions to help make your days flow better, more efficiently and hopefully even open up windows of time just for YOU. Intrigued? Good, let's get started.

First of all, quit thinking that your diary and to-do lists are enough to keep things in check. Distractions come at you from all angles and any undone item in your diary or list will end up making you feel more guilty and stressed. By all means, keep your appointments and priorities written down, but I would like to suggest a simpler system of getting things in order and, quite literally, clearing your mind.

David Allen says in his book, "Getting things done": "Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control; you were not stressed out; you were highly focused on what you were doing; time tended to disappear (lunchtime already?); and you felt you were making noticeable progress toward a meaningful outcome."

In order to be this focused you need to clear your mind of its clutter. You need to find a way to make it forget (just for a few minutes) about reminding you to buy milk on the way home, prepare your speech for tomorrow or wonder about what you are going to make for supper. Sometimes you just want 100% focus on what you are doing.

David Allen calls these constant thoughts and distractions in your mind, 'open loops'. These loops are anything that pull your attention where it doesn't belong. They can be everything from "Hire new assistant" to "Replace electric pencil sharpener" or "Answer email that just came in." The joke is that there is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is one your mind and how much it's getting done.

David says that you need to identify and collect all those things that are "ringing your bell" and plan how to handle them. If you ignore the thoughts they will simply just keep coming back.

This is what you need to do:

1. If it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. Anything you consider unfinished must be captured in a trusted system outside of your mind. David Allen calls this a 'collection bucket' and is something you know you will come back to and sort through. This can be an in-tray, a reminder list on your cell phone or a written note in a notebook.

2. Clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.

3. Once you've decided on the action/s you need to take, keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

Let's practice:

Write down the situation that is most on your mind right now. The thing that most bugs you or distracts you. Next, describe in one sentence what the intended successful outcome will be for this problem. For example, if the thing that bugs you is an unfinished report for your boss, the intended successful outcome will be a completed report.

Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward. For example, gather information for your report.
Now you know exactly what you need to do next.

Do you feel like you suddenly have more control over the situation? Does it feel less overwhelming?

Sometimes you simply need to break your problem down into baby steps and write down the next action you need to take to clear the thought from your mind. You need to think about the problem before you attack it.

The very reason why it is on your mind in the first place is because deep down you feel like you don't know what the final outcome needs to be, what your next action is or you are afraid you will forget about it (you don't have reminders in place). Your brain won't give up the job of keeping it on your mind until it knows you have made a plan to deal with it.

The bottom line: The key to managing all of your "stuff" is managing your actions. Determine what needs to be done, make the note, and then you will be able to focus.

Author's Bio: 

Michelle Ainslie is an author, journalist and motivational speaker in the area of mental health. You can visit her website at