Unpack the Basket: 7 Tips to Increase Productivity and Enhance Creativity

Ever dash into the grocery store intending to pick up just a couple of items — quick in, quick out? At the entrance, you take a shopping basket instead of a cart.

Before you’ve gone a dozen steps, something catches your eye. Ooh, you need that.

You go a little further. You need that as well. And that, and that, and that.

You’re walking around with far more items than you intended, lugging this overloaded basket through the store.

It’s heavy. It’s bulky. It’s too full, so you keep dropping stuff.

Carrying around all these extra items knocks you off your stride. You’re not moving quickly, steadily, confidently anymore.

Instead, you’ve slowed down. You’re tuckered out. Trying to manage all the contents of that basket has made it that much harder for you to move forward, let alone recall what you initially came into the store to get.

Now, imagine that basket isn’t a basket.

It’s your head.

Specifically, your brain.

A Tisket, A Tasket, Your Brain as a Basket

You have too much on your mind. You keep adding to it, however, and it’s beyond packed. It’s overflowing. Because of that, you drop a few things. Maybe you don’t even notice what’s gone missing. Maybe you forgot about those things, but still you keep on adding more and more and more.

Eventually, one of two things will happen: you won’t be able to move forward under the weight of it all, or you’ll explode from the pressure.

We want to multi-task — we’re sure we can do it — but we want clarity at the same time.

We talk about blue-sky thinking, but really, how can that happen if the inside of your head is as cluttered as an episode of Hoarders?

Unloading = Unpacking = Unburdening

It took me a long time to understand that having so much on my mind was actually hobbling me. The weight of this responsibility was a crushing burden; it diminished my productivity, inhibited my creativity.

I was sabotaging myself again and again, every single day of my life.

I didn’t put down the burden all at once. I’m still working on taking the pressure off myself in stages.

It’s like standing in line at the register, lowering that shopping basket until one end rests on the metal edge of the conveyer belt. A portion of the weight is transferred away from you, enabling you to steadily unload items, one after the other.

Tools to Turn To

I recently gave a talk to a business and networking group about using the tool of expressive writing to let go of emotional burdens and past traumas.

I’ll be honest — I began with other methods to unpack my mind; only now am I implementing the writing advice I gave them. But during the course of the presentation, when I described a few of the tools I turned to, much of the audience didn’t know the books I referenced and the websites and apps I mentioned.

Instead of explaining and re-explaining myself in the aftermath of that talk, I’m writing down what I use myself. Because holding that information inside my head is just one more item that needs to be unloaded.

So if your basket is too full and you want to explore ways to gain greater clarity and open up some space in your mind, here are my personal recommendations — the seven things that have helped me.

7 Tips to Increase Productivity and Enhance Creativity

Books

  • David Allen, Getting Things Done
    The system millions swear by. Google the title and you’ll find the cult of GTD alive and well online, with hundreds of websites you can turn to for support and implementation advice in addition to the official GTD site.
  • Janet Conner, Writing Down Your Soul
    The personal account of a woman who’s become an enthusiastic advocate of expressive writing (see Pennebaker below), this book details how writing can free your inner voice to problem solve and guide you. Warning to atheists: it’s somewhat God-based (in the Christian spiritual tradition) in parts, but there’s also neuroscience to back up her claim that a daily writing practice (in which you address the difficult stuff) will bring you clarity.

Websites

  • Dr. James W. Pennebaker and Writing to Heal, The University of Texas at Austin
    The premise: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Pennebaker’s decades of research prove the efficacy of this simple method.
  • The Secret Weapon by Braintoniq
    Described as “a no bs approach to personal productivity,” here you’ll find detailed instruction on how to use Evernote (see below) as the basis of your GTD system. You may not implement all of it, but it’ll help you establish a secure place to capture everything.

Apps

  • Evernote
    The elephant head in the green box will become your go-to app icon on your smartphone once you read GTD and The Secret Weapon. Evernote can hold everything, and it’s free.
  • Easily Do
    Combining the best of half a dozen other apps, this’ll track your packages, keep travel info and tickets instantly accessible, and remind you of appointments, birthdays, and events. Plus, it’ll curate Facebook for you, showing only important posts from the handful of friends you really care about and ignoring the endless junk posted by everyone else.
  • Headspace
    An app for meditation? Yes, and more. Beautifully designed, it becomes almost addictive once you try the free 10-day introductory series which guides you through a ten-minute meditation with new content each day. At the end, lather, rinse, repeat the series for free. Or sign up for a month, a year, or a two-year subscription with significant price breaks. If you subscribe and meditate every day, it’ll cost you just pennies per guided sitting. And if you complete a 30 day meditation streak, you’ll earn a free one-month subscription for a friend.

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