When in doubt, write it down

When you find yourself in a cycle of overthinking, can’t get a particular idea, question, or thought out of your head, or are simply are trying to remember too much, write it down.

You don’t need to do anything more than just writing it down. You don’t need to have a plan nor do you need to lay out next steps. Focus on the simple task of getting it out of your head.

Maybe after you take some time to write things down the next steps will become apparent, maybe you need to take a day or two to process all your thoughts. The most important thing is that you start somewhere. Start by the simple act of writing down whatever is in your head.

Questions you may have before starting

Answers to the questions below are meant to provide you with some ideas of what to do, but are not meant to say this is how things should be done. If you’re looking for a place to start use these as your starting place and tweak them or abandon them as you see fit.

What do I write down?

Whatever is easiest and feels most natural for you at the moment. It can be full sentences, abbreviated sentences, a few words that capture your thoughts. As overthinkers it can be unhelpful for us to hear “don’t think too much about it, just write” but I encourage you to do that as much as you can.
Start writing one way and if it doesn’t feel right or your head still feels full, try another way. We may not know what works for us until we try a few things.

Where should I write things down?

Use whatever is available to you. Maybe it’s a note app on your phone or tablet, a dedicated “overthinking journal”, scraps of paper, the back of a receipt, a Word document on your computer, or anything else you have around.
Make it easy for yourself and keep some scraps of paper in a drawer, a small notebook nearby, or download a notes app for your device.

Where should I keep my notes?

If you write them down digitally, they can be stored in a file on your computer, in the cloud, or simply on your phone. If you wrote them on paper you could keep them in a dedicated drawer or binder.

Do I need to keep my notes?

That is something only you can answer for yourself and in all honesty there may not be an easy answer. When you start writing you may get a sense if these are notes you should keep or can be discarded. If you’re not sure take some time to let them sit and come back to them in a few days.

If you’re having a hard time deciding what to do with the thoughts you have written down, try to figure out why.

  • Have you uncovered some thoughts/feelings/fears that you are not sure what to do with? This may be a time to talk to a professional who can help you sort through these thoughts, don’t feel that you need to do this on your own.
  • Do you have the start of an idea but are not sure if it makes sense to pursue? Take the written idea and post it somewhere where you will frequently see it so you can have it on your mind to help you decide.
  • Have you written down things you need to do/remember and you simply don’t want to deal with those things right now? Getting rid of the notes would mean you don’t have a visual reminder of what you need to do and may momentarily lessen any guilt you feel for not getting them done. But, the feeling of guilt or the weight of knowing you need to do something will eventually come back. Finding ways to tackle those items we do not want to do it a skill that takes time, patience, and determination.

If you’re overthinking

When your brain is busy with all kinds of thoughts and you feel that you just have too much on your mind, write it down.

Let your unfiltered thoughts out. There is a freedom in writing down exactly what is in your head and not worrying how it sounds, if it makes sense, or even if you are writing full sentences.

Maybe you keep the notes to look at later to sort through your thoughts. Maybe you throw the paper away because the thoughts are now out of your head. Not every thought or idea is something we need to analyze and dissect. Sometimes it is enough to just get it out of our head.

If you have an idea

Maybe you have an idea about a project going through your head. You don’t have all the details sorted out, but you are starting to build a foundation. Write down these ideas in a place you can find them again, perhaps a spreadsheet, Google Docs, or dedicated notebook.

You don’t have to have a fully formed plan and it doesn’t even have to be something you are looking to do now. Keeping track of possible ideas means you can revisit them later when you have the time, money, or energy to pursue them. 

If you an idea about a project stuck in your head it means there was interest there at some point. Because we have busy lives we can sometimes put our hobbies and projects aside, at least momentarily, because we feel we do not have time for them. But, we should keep track of them to remind us of our interests and that it is important to do things for ourselves that we enjoy.

If you’re trying to remember too many things to do

We often think of to do lists as something we use for bigger items and may not even think about adding all the small things throughout the day that we want to remember.

We may also feel silly for writing down every little thing that we want to remember. Even if something is routine or something we feel it should be easy for us to remember, we shouldn’t feel an outside pressure to only add certain things to our lists.

With so many people sharing beautifully curated and crafted lists online we can feel we want ours to look as sleek and minimal as what others have made.

Your to do list should fit into your life, you shouldn’t fit your life around your to do list.

If you want to get detailed and write down each little thing you want to do and/or what time you want to do things, go for it. Your list does not need to end up online. If you choose to share your list, do not be hesitant because your list does not look like others. Seeing a variety of different types of lists will help other feel comfortable to experiment what works best for them.

If you’re trying to remember too many pieces of information

Similar to your to-do list, you shouldn’t feel the need to try and remember every piece of information. Finding ways to store information frees you from the burden of trying to remember every detail on a variety of topics.

Whether it is your job or your home life, the importance doesn’t lie in remembering every piece of information, but in knowing how to efficiently find it.

Before you event attempt to find or create a system to track all the information, just get it out of your head. There is time later to categorize, assess the need to remember each piece of information, and figure out how to store it. Do the first step, getting it out of your head, before moving on to subsequent steps.


Before deciding what you will do with the thoughts in your head, start by just writing them down. You can later decide what you are going to do, but for now focus on getting them out of your head.

Don’t feel pressure to write something down and immediately do something with it, you don’t even need to read it over. Start simple by just writing and go from there. 

If you feel inspired to do more after you write things down, such as reviewing what you wrote and then making a plan, feel free to do that, but don’t put pressure on yourself. Don’t force a next step.

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