These 12 Simple Methods Can Help You Organize Your Thoughts

How to still your mind and unlock your creativity.

Adam Cairns
6 min readAug 6, 2019
Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds. — Norman Vincent Peale

Congratulations, you’ve got thoughts which need organizing. Imagine for one moment the reverse and concede this is one problem that’s good to have.

Your time, energy and attention however, are each precious commodities and it’s prudent to protect and conserve them. If your thoughts remain disorganized, they’ll jangle for your attention and make concentration difficult.

Focus is possible only when you still your mind. With every thought in its place, you are free to unleash your creativity.

Learn how to organize your thoughts then tap your full potential.

1. Do A Brain Dump

What consumes your mind, controls your life. — Anonymous

Sometimes your mind is like a crowded market, your ideas and thoughts all jostle for attention. In the middle of the noise and chaos it is impossible to find the path back out.

Write everything that’s in your head. Keep going until there’s nothing left and notice how much quieter your mind becomes.

By acknowledging your thoughts you pacify them. In the stillness this creates, you will make new choices.

2. Make A List Of Every Thought

Before you eat the elephant, make sure you know what parts you want to eat. — Todd Stocker

Lists are your first step towards more organized thoughts. List everything that’s in your head, don’t worry about priority.

Then make a second list once everything is down. Sift, catalogue and prioritize as you compile the second list.

Without a list, your brain continues to remind you of any unlisted thought. A list lets you empty everything that’s in your head.

A further benefit is when you tick items off your list, you build momentum. Each completed action produces a flare of satisfaction that makes you feel good about yourself.

3. Let The Details Blur

If you just focus on the smallest details, you never get the big picture right. — Leroy Hood

Scan the surface of your thoughts. Let the details subside and see if you can grasp the bigger picture. Identify any hotspots or peaks. These are places hungry for your attention.

Allow the details to blur. The process of surface skimming allows you an overview and helps you identify priorities and make connections.

When you see the bigger picture, it’s easier to decide where to send your focus.

4. Chunk Up Your Thoughts

For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned. — Benjamin Franklin

Your mind constantly searches for patterns. When you have too many thoughts, it’s useful to chunk them up.

Ask, what is this a part of?

Example: Book flights, choose a hotel, find dog-sitter and hire a car becomes ‘organize the trip’.

By chunking up, you narrow down the number of thought categories which makes it easier to prioritize.

5. Use a Single Word To Categorise Your Thoughts

People like to understand and categorize things in order to understand. —Max Riemel

Your thoughts can swirl around unnamed. In this state they are more like emotions than formed ideas.

Feelings lead to actions, which generate more feelings. This is a loop you must be in control of.

Being derailed is otherwise too easy.

Name your thoughts. Use a single word for them. Take charge.

6. Visualize Your Thoughts

We are not the stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves. — Norbert Wiener

When thoughts remain unspoken inside your head, they are hard to manage. You miss the opportunity to link ideas together. Thinking this way is inefficient.

Visualize your thoughts. Use tools like mind maps, pie charts and doodles.

Once thoughts are outside your head, you design the way they look, the way they interface.

Patterns are easier to see, thoughts become productive

7. Re-Order Your Thoughts With Index Cards

That’s where notecards come in. They are building blocks, creating a foundation upon which the work can lay. They are the inches in the game of inches that is the sport of art or business. — Ryan Holiday

You may categorize your thoughts, but the real magic happens when you build in flexibility.

If you record your thoughts on index cards your collection system is inherently flexible. You can stack cards, colour code, merge, re-order, discard.

Instead of a static list, shuffle your cards into whatever arrangement makes sense

8. Sleep On It

Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world. — Heraclitus

Sleep can be productive. To maximize the power of your unconscious, assemble your thoughts using one of the above methods.

Allow yourself to digest everything you have collected.

This first step quietens anxiety. Once you’ve collected your thoughts, sleep will unlock your mind’s ability to find patterns and connections.

You will then awake with a better grip of your priorities.

9. Work Out Your Best Time

The way we spend our time defines who we are. — Jonathan Estrin

Make sense of your noisy thoughts when you’re at your peak time of day.

Some people are larks, others owls. Work out your optimal time of day and dedicate some time in that window to implement one method mentioned in this article.

10. Talk It Out

A problem well stated is a problem half-solved. — Charles Kettering

Often, thoughts are incoherent and difficult to pin down. They are like sensations, which leave you feeling anxious, tense, stressed or distracted.

Sit with a friend or family member and talk them out. It may help you name what’s bothering you. A conversation helps uncover what lies behind your thought.

Once in the open, you can work out what to do.

11. Weave Thoughts Into A Story

Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining. — Mark Turner

Ask: What are your thoughts trying to tell you?

See your disparate thoughts as elements of a story. Find the narrative that runs through them.

Then develop this into a story that explains a broader truth. Alternatively, take a single thought and make that into a story to see what happens to it.

Humans are instinctive story tellers. By turning thoughts into stories you unlock a powerful tool to understand the bigger questions.

12. Get A Dose Of Nature

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. — Albert Einstein

Perspective is everything. Thoughts that loom large in your office, become less impressive when contrasted with the raw beauty of nature.

Fresh air, exercise and a view have physiological and psychological effects. Use them to fuel your body with oxygen, adjust your field of awareness and open your mind to new possibilities.

All this happens with no mental effort.

13. Bonus: Stay In Control

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. — Eleanor Roosevelt

If you reach a moment of clarity, enjoy.

Then in the next instant, figure out how you will avoid the problem from recurring.

A simple strategy is to set up a thought log. Whether you use a notebook and pen or an app, your goal is to collect new thoughts as they occur to you.

Once a week, reflect on your collected thoughts. Consider which need a plan and which you can safely leave.

A simple plan can be preventive.

How do you organise your thoughts?



Adam Cairns

Exploring the intersection between good organisation and creativity |Blog | Digital Garden |