Organizing the Anxious Mind for Less Crisis, More Plan

September 18, 2013 Tom Cloyd, MS, MA

Organizing the anxious mind helps when anxiety makes you less productive or confused. This quick list and prioritization process will help you worry less.

Anxiety, whether or not it develops into PTSD or another anxiety disorder, pulls us off course, again and again. It sets us up to crash through life from one crisis to another and makes us less productive - all of which increases our stress level. In spite of this, you can fairly quickly organize your anxious mind and have less crisis and more "plan" in your daily life. I'll show you how.

While you can do this on a computer quite nicely (I use a spreadsheet), pencil and paper will do quite well. The main thing you need is the belief that you can, in fact, push back successfully against the chaos in your life and use self-discipline to perform the simple method I'll give you. It takes very little time--only 5-10 minutes a day.

In return, there's a good chance it will reduce your anxiety, help you stay focused, and result in simply getting more done. Plus you'll be focusing on important things, the things that tend to give you the greatest satisfaction.

How to Organize Your Anxious Mind

Day One - Launch the System

First, gather your tasks. Let's look at your "to-dos" from the perspective of some natural categories. This structured multiple perspective approach will tend to get onto paper your major tasks so you can work with them. As we look at each category, focus briefly on it, to see what comes to your mind.

If you think of nothing much for a category, that's fine. That you consider the matter is what's important. If you find that a task fits more than one category, just put it anywhere you like. You merely want it listed.

FEELS URGENT. Since anxiety tends to make us avoidant, we'll combat that by asking you to begin by writing down the tasks that are currently making you most anxious - the ones you keep thinking about while you're doing other things. Make a small list, and title it something like "feels most urgent".

WANTED BY OTHERS. Next, make a small list of the tasks other people want you to do, for whatever reason. Give it an appropriate title as well.

UNFINISHED. List the tasks you are in the middle of and have not yet finished.

FACING DEADLINE. Then list the tasks you need to work on because of some deadline in the future.

AVOIDING. Don't forget to list the tasks you keep avoiding - don't worry, you can continue to avoid them, but we want the avoidance to be the result of an active choice, not some goofy if-I-don't-look-it-doesn't-exist mental nonsense!

MOST APPEALING. Finally, write down the tasks you'd really like to do if you could forget about everything else.

Is there any other group of tasks you should give brief attention to? Everyone's life is different, and you're the best person to answer that question. If the answer is yes, add that group to this lists of lists.

Prioritize and Begin Work

We're heading for the barn at this point - it'll be a quick finish, so press on. If your lists are not all on the same sheet of paper, arrange them so you can scan all of them simultaneously.

Consider now: what is the single task which, all in all, you most want to have completed by the end of the day? Find it, write in on a different sheet of paper, with the number "1" beside it. Write next to it your estimate of how long it will take you to complete.

If it's a task requiring many hours or even days, such that you can only accomplish some of it today, then decide what piece you will work on, or how much time you will give it today. Cross off that task off the list it came from.

Now repeat the question: from those remaining, what is the task you most want to have completed by the end of the day? This is task #2; write it on you new list, cross it off the old, and estimate its time to completion.

Continue doing this prioritization process until you have several hours worth of tasks on your work list. Stop, put away your original lists for later consultation, stick your work list in your pocket and get to work. When you run out of items on the list, repeat the work list creation process.

Day Two And Beyond

This is identical to day one, except that you have yesterday's lists as a kind of external memory, and this will speed things up.

Use them in this way: Using a blank piece of paper, briefly consider each of your task categories, so you can make use of your current awareness of what's important. Don't skip this step as it can be a major source of anxiety reduction. Then, look at yesterday's lists, and copy across all items you still want to keep thinking about.

Prioritize your tasks, as you did on day one, then get to work.

Why Organizing Your Anxious Mind Works

This quick and simple process has a number of advantages. Using pre-structured task categories directs your attention so that you don't have think too hard or too much. It also acts to insure that you don't skip some important task group. The specific attention to what you're anxious about will help to get THOSE items off your mind, which will help you focus on finishing your organization and getting to work.

The efficiency of this process means that you worry less and produce more, and that will help you feel more in control, a proven way to help reduce your anxiety.

I've been using this process for years, and I wouldn't start my day without it. Give it a try, and tell me about your experience with it. I'd love to hear about it!

Connect with Tom Cloyd also at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, his Sleight of Mind blog, his Trauma Psych blog, and the Tom Cloyd website.

APA Reference
Cloyd, T. (2013, September 18). Organizing the Anxious Mind for Less Crisis, More Plan, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Tom Cloyd, MS, MA

Tracy Moore
February, 5 2016 at 8:17 pm

This stuff is amazing! I can't believe I haven't attempted to source it before now... There is a wealth of tools and I'll work my way through them.
Thank you so much for making it all so accessible -
Tracy Moore

June, 17 2015 at 8:19 am

Thank you for the wonderful suggestion!!!
I often worry needlessly which only increases anxiety but gets me nowhere. Sort of like the rocking chair adage. I also lack a great deal of structure in my life outside of paid work
What an excellent way to organize your day to get more things done leaving less time for worry . I think I'll give it a try
Focusing on the solution and/or finding ways to keep busy and budget your time more effectively has the added bonus of a well deserved sense of accomplishment by day's end. I like it!!!

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