Do you need help organizing all the thoughts and ideas swirling around in your head?
Are you looking for some practical ways to not only capture your bright ideas but to organize them in a useful way?
Organizing your thoughts may very well be one of the most challenging organization projects on which you’ll ever work…now and in future.
The process of organizing your thoughts is much different than organizing physical items in your home or office.
You can’t simply grasp a collection of thoughts as you would grasp a pen cup filled with pencils and pencils.
Nor can you gather thoughts as if they were a box full of papers or clothing.
You must convert those thoughts and ideas into a physical form or allow your mind to sort and process such items.
Thankfully, there are a variety of ways you can capture all those clever little ideas.
It’s all about getting out of your head and taking action!
In this post, I offer a collection of seventeen different ways to organize your thoughts.
Some of these thought organization techniques are more practical and straightforward, while others are more creative in nature.
Some methods allow you to actively observe your thoughts from a new perspective, while other methods require a more hands-off approach.
Whether you’re organizing ideas for a party, your to-do list, your life, or making sense of all the different things going on in your life (your career, relationships, finances, health, etc.), you’re sure to find this collection of organization techniques helpful.
Choose the method or methods that interest you the most and you’ll be well on your way to organizing your thoughts.
Practical Ways to Organize Your Thoughts
When it comes to organizing your thoughts, you can’t go wrong taking a practical and step-by-step approach. Sometimes, the sheer process of turning a collection of thoughts in your head into a few notes jotted down on some paper can literally make things as clear as black and white.
There’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever when it comes to your thoughts; you can clearly see all the items that are of concern to you at this very moment.
The techniques that follow are great for those times when you need take stock of the thoughts in your mind. Simply transfer thoughts from your mind onto sticky notes, index cards, or a piece of paper, and you’ll be able to analyze, evaluate, and manipulate your thoughts and ideas as needed.
Assemble sticky notes on a wall.
For this exercise, you’ll need a stack or two of sticky notes, a writing implement, and a clean area of wall space. Write down one thought on a sticky note and stick the note on the wall. Continue the process, making sure to write only thought per sticky note.
When you’ve emptied all thoughts from your mind, take three large steps back from the wall. What do you see? What don’t you see? You can then start placing sticky notes into groups. Feel free to create whatever groups or groupings you’d like: this exercise is all about making sense of the thoughts in your mind.
Draw a mind map.
A mind map is a simple way of connecting different thoughts together. You’ve probably seen mind maps before in one shape or another. They have one main thought in the center and are surrounded by related thoughts and ideas.
To create a mind map, you’ll need a sheet of paper or a notebook. In the center of the paper, write down your predominant thought, and draw a circle around it. Next, you’ll want to draw a line from the circle radiating outwards towards the sheet of paper. At the end of this line, write down a thought related to your predominant thought. Continue adding thoughts to your map as necessary.
As you work on your map, you may find it helpful to create sub-maps of related thoughts to help further organize your ideas.
Take notes on index cards.
Index cards are a classic way of keeping track of your thoughts and ideas. For this technique, you’ll need a stack of index cards, blank or lined, along with a writing implement such as a marker or pen. You can organize your thoughts in one of two ways.
The first option is to write out one thought per index card, which is quite similar to the technique described above using sticky notes. Once you’ve transferred your thoughts to index cards, you can shuffle and reorganize them as you please to uncover new ways of looking at information.
The second option is to use the top of an index card for a main thought. You’ll then want to list out related thoughts underneath the main thought. Again, you can shuffle and reorganize index cards as needed for a new look at your ideas.
Create a list.
One of the easiest ways to organize your thoughts is to capture them in a good old-fashioned list. Your list need not be complicated: you’re just capturing information so you can process it in a little bit.
Here’s what to do: grab a piece of paper or a notebook along with a writing implement. Write down one thought per line. Keep writing down your thoughts until you can’t think of anything else. When you’re finished, take a bird’s eye view of your list. You should be able to see some similarities and connections in your list.
You can use this moment to draw connecting lines to your list items, or create a brand-new set of lists based off of your original list.
Make a pie chart.
You’ve probably seen pie charts before. These are visual charts created in the shape of a circle, or pie, with each shaded area representing different amounts of anything and everything, from a budget, food, survey results, to winning sports teams.
For this technique, you’ll need a piece of paper or a notebook and a pencil. Draw a large circle in the center of the piece of paper and then write down your thoughts in different areas inside the circle. As you collect your thoughts, consider their relationship to one another. For instance, are some thoughts more important, pressing, or timely than others? Make sure you mark your thoughts as such in your pie chart.
Creative Ways to Organize Your Thoughts
Are you looking for a fun and exciting way to organize your thoughts? Why not use your creativity to organize all those incredible ideas, aha moments, and genius thoughts? Unleashing your creative side can allow your mind to view your thoughts and ideas from an entirely different perspective.
What’s more, taking a creative bent to organizing your thoughts can be a lot of fun, too.
Try any of the following techniques the next time you want to shake things up when it comes your thoughts. Some of these ideas may seem a bit unconventional or silly, but hey, what have you got to lose? You may be pleasantly surprised at what you discover when using these techniques!
Handwrite a letter.
The art of letter writing is a true skill. Why is this the case? You have to think about what you want to say, or write, in an organized and coherent manner. If you haven’t written a letter in ages, consider this your wake up call! Here’s how to get started…
Pull out a blank piece of paper and a pen. Turn off your cell or smart phone and put your desktop, laptop, or tablet to sleep. You’re going to spend the next few minutes writing a letter to a dear friend. Keep in mind, you won’t actually be mailing this letter to a friend, it’s just a way for you to think about and organize your thoughts.
Given all the thoughts swirling around your mind at the moment, how would you describe your thoughts to your friend? Which thoughts are connected to one another and which aren’t? Take as much time as you need and write the letter.
If you’re finding it difficult organize things in your mind, you can simply write a stream of consciousness letter. All you have to do is write down what comes to mind as you think about it. There’s no need to edit, correct, or fix errors. Just write and keep on writing until you decide to call it quits.
Make a collage.
Are you a visual person? You can create a collage of your thoughts using a variety of different pictures and images. This process is a bit more intensive than others, so you’ll want to make sure you have sufficient time at your disposal.
Begin by collecting any magazines, newspapers, flyers, cards, and other printed materials from around your home. You’ll also want to round up a glue stick, glue, or rubber cement, as well as a pair of scissors, and a piece of poster board or sturdy sheet of paper stock.
Leaf through your collection of print materials and find items that catch your eye. These could be pictures, words, images, colors, or shapes. Whatever interests you is fair game. Once you’ve finished cutting out items, take time to group and arrange on your poster board. When you’re finished arranging things, glue items down as needed and review your handiwork.
Create a table of contents.
Does it feel as if your thoughts could create a weighty tome of information? Why not take things literally and try your hand at writing a table of contents? This method forces you think about ideas and thoughts, and how they should be presented in a logical fashion, from start to finish.
Grab a piece of paper or notebook along with a writing tool. You can also use a word processing program for this exercise, should you wish.
Now, imagine you’re writing a table of contents for a book. Which of your thoughts should come at the beginning of the book? Which of your thoughts should come at the end? What items should take up the middle? Construct your table of contents as you see fit.
Develop a timeline.
Seeing your thoughts listed in a timeline or calendar format can give you some much-needed perspective. It’s like you’re seeing your ideas, thoughts, experiences, or activities through the ages! For this exercise, you’ll need some paper and a writing implement. In a pinch, you can use an old or unused calendar or planner to organize your thoughts.
Here’s what you’re going to do: start by choosing one timeline method for your needs. You could use a calendar using the months of the year, days of the week, hours of the day, or chronologically by year. Once you’ve decided on your method, you can write in a single thought in each slot. The idea here is to organize your thoughts by what comes first, second, third, and so on.
Feel free to organize your timeline and ideas in any way you see fit, just make sure to include ample notes for yourself so you won’t forget how you developed your timeline!
Make a recording of yourself.
An incredibly easy way to hear what you’re thinking is to simply record your thoughts. This gives you a unique look at not only what you’re thinking, but your tone of voice when you’re recording your ideas.
For this technique, you’ll need an electronic device that is capable of recording sound. This could be a dedicated voice recorder, audio software, or voice recording app on your phone, desktop or tablet. When you’re ready, make a recording of all of your thoughts and ideas.
Put the recording aside for a day or two and come back to it in a few days’ time. You’ll have a completely different perspective and insight into your thoughts when you listen to your recording of yourself.
Thoughtful Ways to Organize Your Thoughts
Organizing your thoughts may seem like an activity that has to take place when you’re fully-awake, focused, and present. You may even believe you have to actively think about your thoughts to create some semblance of order and structure. While this may be true for some of the time, it’s not completely true for all of the time.
You may not have realized it yet, but you can “organize” your thoughts through a variety of less active methods. These approaches wholly encourage you to take time off from actively thinking about ideas, thoughts, issues, and concerns, and let your subconscious mind take control. If you’ve never used any of these methods, then you may want to give these methods a try. It’s a completely different way of organizing your thoughts!
Work on a repetitive task.
Repetitive tasks can help you sort out the thoughts in your head. While your hands are busy, your mind is free to sort out all the details and considerations floating around your head.
All you have to do is identify a task or tasks that don’t require much effort or thought on your end. This could be as simple as entering business card data into spread sheet, ironing clothes, sewing a button, shredding old paperwork, dusting furniture, filing papers, or tidying up your desk or room.
Choose your preferred task and get to work! Your mind will organize your thoughts in the background while you work.
Sit quietly or meditate.
Meditation can calm both the mind and body. It can also help you gather and organize your thoughts. This approach asks you to relax and just be…and let your mind do the work for you.
How can you get started? You can turn off the lights or draw the blinds in the room in which you’re sitting. Next, you’ll want to sit quietly in a chair, on a bed, or on a pillow on the floor. Whatever position makes you comfortable is a good choice.
The next step is one that is really simple: just sit quietly. Breathe slowly and calmly. Sit and relax and enjoy the moment. If you practice meditation, you can use this as opportunity to meditate for several minutes.
Sleep on it.
That which seems incredibly chaotic and puzzling now, will look a whole lot different in the morning! There’s just something about the power of sleep when it comes to clarifying and clearing up your thoughts. This process can be incredibly useful if you’re trying to make a decision or coming to some sort of agreement or terms.
What do you need to do for this technique? Change into your pajamas, climb into your comfy bed, and go to sleep as you usually do. You’ll awake with some fresh perspective in the morning. Try it…I think you’ll like it!
Physical Ways to Organize Your Thoughts
As we talked about in the previous section, organizing your thoughts is sometimes best left to the wisdom of your mind and body. Sometimes you have to “get out of your head” so you can find the answers which you seek. This may involve you raising your heart rate, spending time with other people, or challenging yourself to interpret your thoughts in a physical manner.
The methods that follow are some great ways for you to organize your thoughts on a physical level. They force you to step out of your mind and express your thoughts through body movement and interactions with others. The next time you need to get your thoughts in order, try putting your body in motion!
Get some exercise.
It’s time to move your body and get your heart pumping. Not only is getting regular exercise good for your body, but it’s good for your mind as well. What activities can you perform to get some exercise?
How about making a visit to the gym, going for a walk with friends, playing fetch with your dog, going for a jog outdoors, do a spot of active gardening, or play tennis with a neighbor.
As I mentioned earlier, the change of pace will give your mind a break, and allow your subconscious to work on your puzzle in the background.
Spend time in nature.
When’s the last time you spent some quality time outdoors? This is a great opportunity to explore the world around you, be it five minutes away, or fifty minutes away.
Think about all the natural areas you could visit near your home or office. For instance, you could sit in the park on a bench, hike a trail in a nature preserve, or gaze at a beautiful green pasture. A little bit of research online will give you some great ideas on places to visit.
So, put on those sneakers or walking shoes, get out of your head, and let your eyes take in all the beautiful sights.
Talk to a friend or family member.
No matter how many times you’ve turned around ideas and thoughts in your own mind, sometimes it helps to talk things out with another person.
You’ll feel a whole lot better getting things out of your head, and off your chest. An added bonus is that your friend can help you find patterns, clarify your thoughts, or give you some new perspective on your current situation.
Make arrangements to meet with a trusted friend or family member for a one-on-one, uninterrupted chat. And of course, offer to listen to your friend in future when they feel the need to talk things out!
Tell a story.
Telling a story is a great way to organize your thoughts. It prompts you think about what’s important to the story…and what isn’t.
You can tell a story anyway you’d like: through storytelling, through acting, through a puppet show, through a drawing or sketch, through radio drama…whatever method you so choose.
Just start with one of your thoughts and take it from there. “Once upon a time…”
How about you? How do you organize your thoughts? Will you try any of the suggestions listed in this post? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!
Learn how to master the mindset of organization and create a life you love. Check out my practical guide, How to Be More Organized Right Now, by clicking here.