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Your brain needs bite sized chunks

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

By Jackie Bland

When your life is at its busiest, your brain seems to fill up with task after task, issue after issue, list after list.

Are your lists not as effective as they should be?

Soon, you’ve so many things on your mind that you can’t recall them all, and being forgetful becomes another thing to deal with. Then you worry. You worry that you have too many things on your mind, and then you feel anxious all the time – so you worry about how anxious you feel....and so on.

It isn’t so much that you have a lot of things in your life, it’s the feelings you have about them that cause the sense of overwhelm that so many people carry around.

Now, serious anxiety needs a proper therapeutic approach, but this ‘to do’ list anxiety responds very well to ‘chunking’.

Here’s an example of an exercise that management trainers use to demonstrate how the brain prefers chunking or categorising information.

A room of people is split into 4 groups. They are asked to work together to list as many types of bird as they can think of in 2 minutes. Three of the four groups work hard, racking their brains to randomly recall birds from their collective memories, and come up with a decent score of between 40 and 60 birds.

The fourth group however, was given something extra – a set of headings:

Water birds

Garden birds

Caged birds

Birds of prey

Flightless birds

Swimming birds

Sea birds

Exotic birds

This group named 150 birds in two minutes – their brains recalling information so much more easily once it could be chunked into categories.

So, if you are suffering from a busy head, try using the same principle. Stop trying to remember everything, or work from one long meandering ‘to do’ list; sit down and calmly ‘chunk’ your life/work. You can simply write down headings and sub-headings, or if you like diagrams and images you might prefer to be more creative and draw your categories.

It doesn’t really matter how you do it – the important thing is to give your brain something it can manage.

To start, take that big ‘to do’ list and create ‘super headings’.

For example:

Home/Work/Personal works for some people;

Little things/Medium things/Large things works for others

Tasks/Projects/Problems might help in a work context

Your own ‘chunking’ might be different, it’s important to choose categories that work for you.

You can then chunk tasks/issues into smaller categories, so ‘Home’ might be further broken down into: Kids/House/Relationship/Money and then ‘Kids’ might be broken down further into


You will be surprised how much more in control you feel when you take the time out to do this. The amount of things to do or think about in your life remains the same, but ordering them into chunks enables your brain to cope and to recall things so much more easily.

And when your brain can cope, anxiety reduces and that feeling of overwhelm disappears.

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