So many thoughts swirling round in your head that you’re getting distracted? Read on to learn how to declutter your mind with a brain dump.
Ever had a day like this?
I was putting away the laundry and reminded myself that I needed to sort through my youngest’s clothes and put away those that don’t fit her.
Then, when I was putting away my son’s clothes I started mentally planning his birthday party.
Next, in my elder daughter’s room, I noticed her light bulb had blown. And the messy desk reminded me that I wanted to spend time teaching her how to keep it organised.
As we go through our day we are often reminded of things that we want to do. But if we just store it away in our brain we will likely forget again until the next reminder. All these extra thoughts keep us from being focused on the task at hand. Instead of focusing on one task – the laundry – I was focusing on at least 5 other tasks and projects. So instead of feeling satisfied that I had completed a task, I was overwhelmed by all the other things I haven’t done yet.
Mental clutter pulls you right out of the present moment, out of the projects your working on and the people you’re working with. Mindspace
If we want to know how to increase focus, not get overwhelmed, and be more productive we need to store all these thoughts in a more trustworthy place than the back of our minds! It might help you to sleep better too if you don’t have all these thoughts going round in your head!
In my journey to improve productivity, I am training myself to write down those random thoughts I need to remember. I’ve been using a Bullet Journal for over a year now and have also started using OneNote for quick, convenient note-taking. These systems have helped me to be more productive, and less forgetful, but in addition to these reactionary methods, it is even more effective to have a proactive system too.
We need to take time to clear our head of mental clutter. All those things we want to remember are important, but they don’t need to be taking up space in our brains. We need to be intentional about getting those thoughts out of our heads and into a system we can trust.
We need to do a brain dump, or a mind sweep as David Allen calls it in Getting Things Done.
What is a brain dump or mind sweep?
A brain dump or mind sweep is when you take time to clean your head of all the mental clutter and get all those thoughts down on paper.
We’re not just talking about writing down these thoughts as they come to us – like I mentioned above. A Mind Sweep is a deliberate, proactive decision. Planned in advance. Possibly done at regular intervals. So it’s more like choosing to declutter the cupboard (a proactive, planned activity) than putting away an item you see out of place (a quick, reactionary activity).
Your goal is to download everything from your mind and organize it into a system out of your head. [Your mind] will no longer be used for storing data, it will only be used for processing information and of course for coming up with amazingly creative plans and ideas. The Productivity Blog
This will help you to be more focused, stop procrastinating and get things done.
How do I do a brain dump?
All you really need is some time, paper and a pen. Sit down and think of all the thoughts that are swirling round in your head and write them down. Don’t try to organise your thoughts or analyse them. Just write everything down. Even if you don’t think it is worth while writing down do so anyway. It is the action of writing it down that gets it out of your head.
Once you have written down everything that comes to mind you need to dig a bit deeper into the back of your mind. The things you have wanted to remember, tried to remember, but have forgotten about. For this you might need a little help.
Want somewhere to record your brain dumps and your planning? I recommend The Organized Life Planner. The 2018 version is now available.
Brain Dump Prompts and Triggers
A list of prompts or triggers is great for helping us to reclaim those forgotten thoughts and get them down on paper. You can download my worksheet by completing the form below.
Start with the here and now. Is there anything that needs to be done today that you haven’t written down yet? Anything you need to buy? An email you need to write. Phone call you need to make.
Next go through your calendar. What is coming up in the next week, month or year? Whatever thoughts come to mind write them down. Maybe you have a child’s birthday coming up or a holiday you want to plan. While looking through your calendar, are you reminded of something that hasn’t been planned out or written in the calendar yet? Do you need to discuss details with your husband / friend / co-worker? Write it all down.
Now think about your home. Maybe take your paper and pen on a walk around the house to help you remember things. Is there any maintenance that needs doing? Anything that needs fixing? Any plans for redecorating? Even if it’s a five-year plan. Anything you need to buy? Do you want to plan a decluttering project? Do you want to organise donating or selling unwanted items? What about the car or garden – anything that needs fixing there, or any plans you have for new purchases? Write it all down in as few words as possible to help you remember. You don’t need to make any plans or organise your thoughts, just write down the basic idea that comes to mind.
This will help you to improve focus and boost productivity.
Spend a few minutes now thinking about yourself. What dreams and goals do you have that you maybe haven’t written down yet? Any projects that you would like to undertake, big or small? How are your routines and habits – do they need some changing? Do you need to make any appointments for healthcare, work or voluntary activities? Is there anything that you are waiting for that you might need to chase up?
Your Family (and pets!)
Spend time thinking about each member of your family. Is there anything they need? Do you need to make any appointments for them?
Come back to your list after a day or two and write down any other thoughts that come to mind. Maybe you remember a book you want to read or another project you’ve been meaning to get round to for ages.
Don’t get overwhelmed by your list. Don’t feel guilty or sorry for yourself. This is not a list of things you HAVE to do. It’s just a list of your thoughts that you don’t want to store in your head anymore – because we can’t trust that storage system!
Instead, allow this task to free you of all these thoughts you have been trying to hold onto. You don’t need to try and remember them anymore!
Once I’ve completed my braindump I quickly sort each item into one of three categories: someday, project or task. Anything that I want to do someday, but not now goes into my Some Day folder, which I look at occasionally. Any projects get added to my Project Board. I then add the tasks to asana. If I’m planning on doing the task that week then I add a post-it to my Adjustable Weekly Planner. Now I don’t need to worry about remembering these things anymore!
Here’s my printable of mind sweep prompts and triggers for you to download. Print it off, take a deep breath and get writing!
Make a brain dump or mind sweep part of your regular routine or schedule. By doing this weekly you will help to free your mind for more creative and productive thoughts. This will help to reduce anxiety and improve focus as you can be fully present with what you are doing rather than thinking about other things (like light bulbs, parties and messy desks)!
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