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Here’s One Simple, Yet Powerful, Way to Reduce Mental Load

We all crave more peace of mind, and Time Management Strategist Kelly Nolan shares one simple yet powerful way to get it.

Have you ever scrambled to get to the DMV before your license expires (or worse, realized it already was when you were trying to make a flight)? Have you forgotten to call or even text a friend on her birthday?

There are so many one-off things we manage that are relatively random but critical to the smooth running of our lives and businesses. Yet, since they’re so random, we forget to do them, stressing our already busy lives.

Photo: Kelly Nolan, Time Management Strategist | Courtesy Photo
Photo: Kelly Nolan, Time Management Strategist | Courtesy Photo

The problem is too often, we rely on our memories for these things or we decide we’ll make space for them on our schedule when they’re closer in time. That often leads to last-minute scrambles or dropped balls.

Remember the timing of tasks and juggling all of the plates is too much for any brain to handle – your brain doesn’t come with internal alarm clock functions. Plus, it has better things to do, like focusing at the office and being present at home.

Instead, let’s talk about how we can let our brains off the hook for this function and let another system carry that burden – your calendar!


Get it out of your head and into a system

One of the first things you’re going to need is to protect some time in your calendar for when you’ll sit down and work through this process. It takes time, but you’ll be reaping the rewards for years to come, so it’s worth it!

Bonus tip: Insert the web address for this article in the calendar entry so you can easily reference and work through the rest of this article!

“Mental load is the cognitive effort involved in managing your work, relationships, family, and household.”

When that time rolls around, grab a piece of paper and write out all of the things that you normally manage in your head. To help get your wheels turning, here are some examples:

  • Medical (e.g., dentist, primary care, dermatologist, and eye doctor visits);
  • Home maintenance (e.g., changing smoke detector batteries, changing air filters, cleaning gutters, paying bills, spring cleaning, wardrobe rollovers)
  • Automotive (e.g., oil change, rotate tires)
  • Financial (e.g., monthly reviews of budgets, preparing taxes)
  • Kid-related things (e.g., their annual medical appointments, buying school supplies, signing up for summer programs, registering for extracurriculars)
  • Pet-related things (e.g., medications, vet appointments)
  • Friendships (e.g., monthly calls to friends – create a list)
  • Legal documents (e.g., driver’s license renewal, passport renewal, Global Entry/TSA Precheck renewal)
  • Vacations (e.g., when do we want to travel and when do we want to stay home depending on schedules, climate, and kids’ school schedules? When will you decide on holiday plans and book travel?)
  • Holidays (e.g., deciding on and prepping Halloween costumes, and presents for the winter holidays)
  • Other miscellaneous things (e.g., annual family photos)

Once you’ve listed everything, calendar not just relevant deadlines (e.g., “Driver’s license expires”), but when you want to take action on it (e.g., six months before the expiration date, “Schedule appointment to renew driver’s license.” Note: in-person renewal may be required if you don’t yet have a RealID and want one for domestic air travel).

For some things, you might want to block time to do multiple steps. Sticking with the driver’s license example, schedule time to make the appointment and, if necessary, time to fill out any paperwork or online forms and gather documents you might need (e.g., proof of address). Help out the future you as much as possible.

Similarly, schedule time months before you want your medical appointments to call in to schedule the appointments, so you get the date that works for you and even that early morning slot to minimize those doctor’s office “running behind” delays.

As you do this, here’s how you get your long-term bang for this work: for anything that makes sense, repeat it annually, monthly, etc. For example, if you schedule “Halloween in one month – what are the kids dressing up as?” and “Buy Halloween candy” (on, e.g., October 10), repeat these puppies annually so you get these reminders every single year from here on out.


Lighten that mental load

Here’s the thing: Everything comes back in time. Everything. If there’s anything logistical swirling around in your head, ask yourself: what action do I need to take on this? And then get that action step out of your head and into your calendar so you can see when you’ll do it – and let it go until then.

We all crave more peace of mind, and this is one simple yet powerful way to get it.


Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time management strategist and mom. Using realistic time management strategies, she helps modern working professionals manage everything on their plate with less stress and more calm clarity. If you’d like to receive three strategies to get 20 minutes of breathing space in your day, learn more at kellynolan.com/20minutes.


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