THE BLOG
10/08/2007 08:00 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Thinking Interrupting Your Sleep?

How well are you sleeping? Do you wake up anxiously thinking about some project, or area of responsibility, or even just a phone call you told yourself you should make?

There's usually an inverse proportion between the amount something is on your mind, and the amount it's getting done. This may be especially true if it's on your mind when you're trying to do something really productive, like sleeping. (Yes, sleeping is one of the most productive things you can do.)

The degree to which things are gnawing at our minds is usually the degree to which those things are "STUCK" in some way. And what we need to do to get those things off our minds is exactly what needs to happen in order to ensure positive progress on them.

From the time you woke up this morning until this moment, have you thought of something you need to do that you still haven't done? Have you had that thought more than once? If so, that is a waste of your creative mental energy--having the same thought about it made no progress on it!

You don't have to complete something to get it off your mind. What you do need to do is:

(1) clarify what the final successful outcome is,

(2) decide the very next action required to move toward that outcome, and

(3) put reminders of the outcome and next action in a system you trust.

Until you do those things, your mind still has that job of deciding and remembering and reminding. Having "a system you trust" is important--because if you know you won't look at your reminders when you could actually use them, your head will still keep that job. As long as your mind has the job of reminding you, it will do it when it can get your attention, even if it's 3:00AM and it's interrupting your beauty rest.

For example, let's say your mechanic is predicting that the $800 you just put into your car will be happening a couple of times a year from now on. You realize it's time to get a new car, which is the perfect excuse to get that hybrid you've been thinking about.

What successful outcome would you want? Good question. Better get that clear--determine the purpose for the new car, what you'll want to do with it, etc. Room for groceries and one passenger in luxury, or room for several muddy members of the Mighty Mites football team?

Put "Get new car" on your Projects list, and think about it sincerely at least once a week to keep it moving. Thinking means asking yourself, "What's the next action?" The answer could be that you'll surf the web to get an idea of different hybrid makes and models. So you put "surf web for hybrid models" on your Next Actions list. Or if you want to be even more elegant, it goes on your "at Computer" list. You'll know that the next time you're at the computer, you'll see that as an option for things to do.

Now you've got a clearly defined project, with a specific next action, parked in a place that you'll see it when you can do something to drive that project forward.

Your mind won't need to remind you at 3:00AM anymore.

By the way, a terrific non-prescription sleep aid is to have a pen and paper on your bedside table. If you do wake up thinking, write down your thoughts so your mind can let you get back to dreaming.

In the light of day, go through those notes and make sure they get where they belong so you can do something about them at the appropriate time. That will build trust so you can relax, all day--and all night.

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You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at Davidco.com.

The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.