Stop Thinking! How I Conquered My Mind and My To-Do List : Under30CEO Stop Thinking! How I Conquered My Mind and My To-Do List : Under30CEO
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Stop Thinking! How I Conquered My Mind and My To-Do List

| February 11, 2013 | 11 Comments

Turn Your Brain OffIs your brain always on? Do you wish you could turn it off? Every entrepreneur has it. It’s a disease.

Don’t worry – it won’t kill you. But it may slowly seep away at your productivity.

It’s human nature. Your brain is always on.

It’s always thinking. Always processing. Never being able to focus. It’s a terrible condition. It affects your relationships.

You want to shut it off, but it doesn’t come with an off-switch (well, mine doesn’t).

I have struggled with this problem for years

I was 15 when I launched my first company – a chocolate chip cookie stand on Main Street. I was open Friday’s for two hours. And yes, I made a killing that summer. But, that’s also when my brain kicked into hyper speed.

Saturday – Thursday my brain was all business – new ideas, promotions, sales techniques, marketing, etc. It’s all I talked about with my parents (they were fronting the bill for materials). What cookies should I make? What do my cookies cost? How many cookies do I need to sell to go to the movies Saturday night?

I made it to college – and my brain became my worst enemy.

Everything was a business idea. I pitched ideas at parties when I should have been trying to pick up a date for the following weekend. I shoved homework aside in favor of a crazy idea that never materialized.

This went on for six years – two after college. And then it hit me:

Instant execution is not smart.

The idea was perfect. It solved my problems. It was easy to implement. It made me drop everything. Friends, family, school work, grocery shopping – whatever I had to do. And I fell flat on my face.

I was executing on dust – not concrete ideas. My thinking needed to change. It’s one thing to have a ton of ideas. But, I’d rather have three great ones. Wouldn’t you?

Ideas come and they go, but they often haunt your mind. And when you get the “golden ticket” everything else goes away. You concentrate on that idea, execute, and fail.

So how do you change your mindset, take control of your brain, and get stuff done? Here are five tips that have worked for me:

Do an Entire Brain Dump – Write it ALL down

You probably have a full-time job (well some of you do), multiple projects going on outside work, and a personal life to keep up with. It can be a lot – and each of the jobs you have has a mounting to-do list. What did I do? I wrote every single to-do down. With it all written down, it was weight lifted off my shoulders.

Granted, it was a lot. I had over 100 items across all of my projects. But it felt awesome. I highly recommend you do the same thing. It’ll be overwhelming, and you might forget a couple things, but we’ll tackle that in the next few steps.

Let your ideas marinate for at least 48 hours

Take your monster list and don’t touch it for two days. Yes, two days. You might tackle a couple items on the list – and that’s ok.

Why let things marinate?

Because it’ll give you a clean slate – a fresh look – at all of your ideas. Sit down at your desk and proceed to the third tip.

Eliminate Your Non-Money Making Ideas

Get rid of them. If it’s not benefiting your business, you definitely don’t need to do it right now. Back-burner it. Off it goes.

By doing this, I took a 100+ item list and whittled it down to 15 items – all of them, if executed in a timely manner, would directly impact my revenue. Everything else got crossed off with a red pen.

Make a Three Item To-Do List

There’s tons of information on the web about to-do lists, anti-to-do lists, not using a list at all, etc. Here’s the thing: you don’t need more than a three item to-do list. Three items is best because it’s manageable. Plus, you can switch between tasks, allowing you to not burn out on one project. It’s what web designers do to find inspiration – they completely switch projects.

Once your three-item to-do list is conquered, make another one. Then create a POW.

Create a POW – that’s “Pile of Wow”

I have no idea if I coined this, but POW’s are “piles of wow.” They help me stay motived – and I definitely get more done.

A POW is a pile of everything you’ve gotten done. It could be during the day, the week, the month. My POW is in my bottom desk drawer. It’s full of everything I’ve done in the past three months (and yes, it’s not organized at all): to-do lists, accounting reports, vendor contracts, product designs, wireframes, and even books I’ve read.

Start Your Own POW. Once you’re focused on getting things done, you’ll be able to blow through your to-do list. When you’re feeling over-loaded again, go through the five-step process again. I do it quarterly so I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

As I’m sure you understand, getting your brain to quiet down is not an easy task. You’re always thinking of more ideas, projects, conversations with vendors, etc. For once, start taking control of your brain and conquer your to-do list at the same time.

Michael Adams is a start-up junkie, branding fanatic, and maple syrup chugging Vermonter. He writes about entrepreneurship, marketing, and wellness at Follow him on Twitter.

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Category: Startup Advice

  • Brandy Anderson

    I love the idea of a POW! This is awesome for so many reasons. For one, it can be incredibly motivating during downtimes to look at a list of recent accomplishments. It’s also a great thing to have top of mind for interviews (job search or otherwise). And even in good times, I imagine it would be a great feeling as you add new things to the list!

  • Michael Jacobs

    I relate a lot to this mindset and I appreciate the tips! Great article!

  • Julie Robert

    Yes, your all points are so true and I personally experience these in my life as once I got any idea my brain push me to do it now. Sometimes it works and sometimes I repent on it. But your tip to marinate an idea for at least 48 hours will help to rethink and refine the ideas and choose the best one. I like your all tips.

  • Michael Adams

    Thanks, Julie! Instant execution killed me. After you wait 48 hours, you’ll notice you didn’t want to do something in the first place. Good luck with taming your brain!

  • Michael Adams

    Thanks, Michael – glad you enjoyed the article. Best of luck going to battle with your to-do list.

  • Michael Adams

    Great point, Brandy! I keep a running document of all of my job/entrepreneurial accomplishments – mini and monumental – to use for resume building. Plus, sometimes you forget how much you actually do! Thanks for reading. Here’s to creating your epic POW.

  • @ccoaching_be

    looks like your re-invented the kanban proces – see
    this free tool may come in handy for you :-)

  • Michael Adams

    Yep – I actually used trello for my giant brain-dump. Still use it to this day for to-do list organization and other smaller projects. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Sara

    Awesome article, Michael. I’m not exactly an entrepreneur, but I think this advice is helpful in all aspects of life, and in any professional position where you simply have too many ideas! Thanks!

  • micadams

    Thanks, Sara! You’re totally right. It’s applicable in really anything!

  • Chandan Rattan


    Well in my mind always thoughts are running whether i am in meetings, Driving, Listening etc. Will these activities help me to stay focus ? I just want my mind to be pause for some moment and start as fresh.