My Mind Is A (small) Glass of Water: A Lesson on Productivity

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I like to compare my mind to a glass of water.

It’s small, mostly transparent, and limited in capacity. I can add water to the brim of the glass, but once it’s full it can no longer fit any additional water. Instead, it just spills over the side of the glass and runs all over the table. In the same way, my mind is continually filled with bits and pieces of information – thus when new information is added, the old tends to spill out.

In my previous two articles here on, I mentioned a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. This book, along with several other strategies, helped to redefine the way I treat productivity and I want to take a couple minutes to teach you more about what I’ve learned and how it revolutionized the way I get things accomplished.

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Losing My Mind In My Twenties

Does this sound familiar:

My wife asks me to stop at the grocery store on my way home. I can do that. While I successfully make the stop to pick up bread and milk, I subsequently forget to stop at the bank and post office. It’s as if my mind was filled to full capacity and could no longer add anything additional.

This problem also began to affect my real estate investing – as I would forget to stop at a tenant’s house, drop off paperwork, or even forget about a leak for weeks. Additionally, I struggled with productivity and how to motivate myself to get things done. Some tasks tend to look so large that it’s easy to get stuck looking at the big picture.

I began to actively seek out solutions to my productivity problems and was introduced to David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.” It was through this book I began to realize the source of my stress, my forgetfulness, and my lack of productivity.

What’s Filling Your Glass?

As I mentioned above, my head is like a glass of water – continually spilling over. All that lost information is not only detrimental to my home and business life, but it also adds significant amounts of stress to my life.

So what, exactly, is filling that glass?

I learned that my glass, or mind, was filled with un-actionable pieces of information – and lots of it. Somewhere in my mind was a reminder that I needed to stop at the bank. Another reminder that my toilet needed to be caulked. Still another that I would need to start planning my next family vacation soon. Hundreds (even thousands) of these thoughts permeate our minds every day.

Unactionable information is information for which nothing can be done about right now. It’s probably useful stuff – but it’s not immediately helpful in whatever situation you are in. Instead, all that information tends to just clog of the brain and make it more difficult to remember the information that IS important right now.

Pouring Out Your Glass

In order to truly relieve the stress on your mind, you need to empty the glass of water. In order to do this, you need to have a system you can trust. You probably can think of examples of how you do this in your own life. For example, have you ever put your keys next to the door at night just so you ensure they are not lost in the morning? By doing so, you have created a system you trust and probably did not add any “what if I lose my keys” stress to your sleep that night.

While the type of system you use to keep yourself organized may vary, I encourage you to keep your system on paper. I’m not just talking about a list, but an actual organized method to your madness. I use folders designed for each large project I’m working on and review those files on a timely basis. I also carry around a notepad so that any new piece of information I receive is instantly put on paper.

There are hundreds of ways you can structure your system to make it work for you. If you have a smartphone, learn to use the calendar or reminder features. Use posterboard to make a plan for specific tasks. Perhaps even buy and carry around a personal notebook planner. Whatever your system is – make it yours and learn to trust your system.

Filling Up Your Glass With The “Good Stuff”

Now that you have a system for keeping track of all the big projects in your life, you can begin to refill your “glass” with just the next actionable items. What exactly do I mean by “next actionable items?” To quote David Allen, is is “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.”

In other words, it is the only thing you can do next to get closer to your goal. What is the goal of your project?

  • To finish a rehab?
  • To find motivated sellers?
  • To buy your first investment?

It is important to decide what the “next actionable step” is at any point you are feeling unproductive. That step needs to be specific. For example, if you are trying to complete a rehab it is not enough to simply say “my next actionable step is to paint.” Instead, your next step might be “Get in my car and drive to Home Depot and choose a paint color.” That step is actionable and something you can do right now.

It is that type of information you want to fill your glass with. Imagine if the only things in your life that were consuming your thoughts and stress level were the things that you could directly work on at that moment. While living this way all the time may be impossible, it is not impossible to improve your productivity to get closer to the ideal.

Final Thoughts

By organizing the contents of you mind and purposefully filling it with only the information that moves you closer to your goal, I believe you will (like me) forget less, get more accomplished, and even decrease your stress level significantly. If you want to learn more about increasing your productivity, I encourage you to read David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.”

What are your favorite methods for being productive? Share with me below in the comments and then get to work on your next actionable step!

Photos: Ben Seidelman

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He began buying rental properties and flipping houses at age 21, discovering he didn’t need to work 40 years at a corporate job to have “the good life.” Today, with nearly 100 rental units and dozens of rehabs under his belt, he continues to invest in real estate while also showing others the power, and impact, of financial freedom. His writings have been featured on,,, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications across the web and in print media. He is the author of The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down, The Book on Rental Property Investing, and co-author of The Book on Managing Rental Properties, which he wrote alongside his wife, Heather, and How to Invest in Real Estate, which he wrote alongside Joshua Dorkin. A life-long adventurer, Brandon (along with Heather and daughter Rosie) splits his time between his home in Washington State and various destinations around the globe.


  1. Brandon – By brain has long since been overflowing, despite the systems I’ve got in place. This is a great post that makes a lot of sense; that said, what do you do once you’ve systematized the hell out of your business and life, but your cup continue to runneth over?

  2. Hi Brandon!

    It all depend on your activities and how you managed them and for me getting relaxed with playing some game that certainly released the pressure and can work or be focused on the real estate business for goods.

    • Hey Ayaz,

      Very true. It’s about how you manage your activity. It’s also about learning to say “no” to stuff. I’m so agreeable and ambitious that I tend to take on way too much!

  3. Sabrina Laplante on

    Brandon, thank you so much for writing such great blogs!!! They always seem to hit home, adn is exactly what I need to hear!!!
    I tend to try and do too many things at one time, and then forget what all was supposed to be done. My dad constantly tells me, “make a list”, but I seem to think that it is okay and I can get it done without one. I need to start that now. I was also just told about that book the other day from another REI, so I guess that is a sign I need to buy me a copy and start reading! Thanks somuch, and stay blessed!

  4. I’ve been driving my family crazy with calendar beeps from the phone since way back when, but it works like a charm. Repeats, alarms, reminders and events – so many ways to make sure you get the bloody milk on the way home 🙂

    • Brandon Turner

      Have you seen the new iPhone feature that will remind you to do something when you arrive or depart from specific locations? It’s amazing, but still a bit quirky to work. The idea is amazing at least. Good things coming down the pipeline in technology!

  5. A wise person once told me, “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” So I have always made a conscious effort to make a note of anything I need to do that will bring me closer to my goals. I constantly review this list and check things off as they get done.
    As a landlord it has helped me a ton to make sure I don’t forget to take care of issues and fixes that come up.

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