By Jiji Lee

How to Organize Your Thoughts


Streamlined mind, streamlined life.

Getting our thoughts in order helps us feel more productive and clear-headed, and enable us to tackle our work and goals with ease. 

But more often than not, our mind is being overwhelmed by work pressures, personal obligations, and worrying about the past or future. 

Other reasons that we feel mentally cluttered include: 

  • Competing deadlines. When we have errands, tasks, and work deadlines piling up and we’re unsure where to even begin.
  • Disrupted routine. Changes in our schedule and regular routine can throw us off balance and make us feel mentally fuzzy. 
  • Clutter. Messy desks and workspaces can create visual stress and distract us from our work.

Here are some simple and practical tips to help you organize your thoughts. Some of these will only take a few minutes to complete, so you can be on your way to a smooth and productive day in no time. 

Get organized with a brain dump

When your mind is filled to the brim with thoughts, it’s time to dump them all out.

Similar to throwing your laundry in one big heap or dumping all the puzzle pieces out on the table, a brain dump is all about tossing it all out there. Not only is it a big relief to get everything down on paper, but a brain dump helps you see what’s on your mind. Once you see it on paper, you can sort through and organize your thoughts.

So take out a notebook with lots of page space and record everything that’s occupying your mind. Maybe it’s a presentation that’s due for work. Or picking out a gift for a relative’s birthday. Or figuring out a meal plan for the week. Write it down. It’s time to capture those nebulous thoughts and turn them into tangible action items.

Next, sort through your items and organize them into categories. Similar to sorting laundry and putting similar colors or fabrics together, you’re going to group your similar tasks together. You can do this by creating separate lists or color coding them. You could put work deadlines in one category. Personal errands in another. Future deadlines in a separate pile. 

Then pick your top 3 priorities and do them today. Maybe it’s two items from the work pile and one from the personal pile. Or vice versa. The next day, take a look at your list and pick 3 more priorities. Rinse and repeat.

Recite a mantra

The next time you need to block out the mental noise, try reciting a mantra.

A mantra is a single word or phrase that you repeat. By focusing on a mantra, you reduce the mental noise and allow the mind to slow down. You can recite a mantra out loud or write it down repeatedly in your journal or say it in your mind. You can repeat a mantra for as long as you need. Sometimes a single repetition can do the trick whereas other times you may need a few minutes to feel the calming effects.

You can also have different mantras depending on the situation. For example, if you’re experiencing work stress, you can use a mantra that conjures peace and calm, like “This moment will pass” or “I can get through this.” For those times when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can focus on a single word like “breathe” or “peace.”

A mantra is a simple but impactful way to organize your thoughts and feel calm. 

Make one less decision

You’ve probably heard about CEOs and heads of state wearing a uniform to work everyday. By wearing the same thing everyday, they have one less decision to make, one less thing to think about. 

And sometimes, little things like deciding what to wear or watch on TV or eat for dinner can feel taxing. So when our mind is overwhelmed, it’s a relief to have one less decision to make. 

Your version doesn’t have to be wearing a black turtleneck everyday. Maybe it’s having a meal plan for the week or a fixed route for your running routine or having someone else decide where to go for dinner.

By limiting your brainpower on the insignificant tasks, you’ll have more energy to focus on things that matter most. 

Think non-linearly 

If you’re looking for a way to organize your thoughts and come up with a great idea, give mind mapping a try.

Creative people and visual learners often need an unstructured way to help them brainstorm and generate ideas. A mind map gives you the space and freedom to throw ideas around. But also offers you a visual, structured way to make connections between your ideas. It unifies your left-brain and right-brain thinking, where creativity and logic can work hand in hand. 

So the next time you need clarity on a project or creative idea, forgo the linear thinking and try throwing ideas around on a mind map.

Create a routine

Having a regular routine can give structure and reliability to our days. And when our internal and external lives feel disorganized, a simple routine can add comfort and a sense of refuge.

A regular routine could mean a morning walk everyday. Or a dedicated lunch time. Or a dinner and movie night with friends. Or a self-care Saturday. Or a walk in the park after work. 

Adding a familiar element to your busy schedule can be soothing and help your mind feel at ease. 

Organize your workspace

While some people feel more creative and energized in cluttered spaces, others feel stressed out. If you’re in the latter camp, you’ll benefit from organizing and decluttering your workspace. 

Keep paper documents in a tray or folder. Gather important office supplies in an organizer or cubby. Have a catch-all tray for bits and bobs like rubber bands and paper clips.  A clean and organized desk can lift a huge weight off your shoulders and prepare you for the work ahead.  

These techniques aren’t set in stone or one-size-fits-all. Pick a strategy that sounds good to you and customize it to suit your needs, schedule, and working style.