Feeling overwhelmed? Try a brain dump so you can see everything you need to manage. Then you can decide how you’ll manage it.
Brain dumps are useful anytime you feel stressed.
Productivity guru David Allen is the author of the book, Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity. In the book, he popularized brain dumping. He calls the process a mind sweep:
Get out your note-taking devices as David Allen guides you through a Mind Sweep session to capture what’s grabbing your attention.
What’s a brain dump?
A brain dump involves writing down everything that’s taking up space in your mind. With that done, you have space, time and energy to think. You’ll be more creative too.
Here’s a good explanation of how a brain dump works:
Brain dumping is… similar to cleaning out and organizing a closet. (It helps you because)… part of anxiety is the problem of too much unresolved clutter in your mind.
Let’s look at some brain dump tips to help you to integrate this wonderful process in your life so you can become relaxed, confident, and in charge of your life.
1. Try a simple Brain Dump exercise
Here’s a very simple exercise you can do as often as you like.
Grab a sheet of paper, or open a computer file.
Write a sentence like:
- “What should I be aware of right now?”
- “What task should I focus on right now?”
- “What are the benefits of…” or “what dangers are there in…”
The sentence “What should I be aware of right now?” is powerful. It may bring up all kinds of negative stuff. That’s healthy and perfectly OK! You’re bringing up your “stuff” to become conscious of it, rather than have it fester in your subconscious mind.
After you write your sentence, grab your phone so you can set a timer. I usually set the timer for ten minutes. In iOS, Siri will set a timer for you if you have it enabled; just say: hey Siri, set timer for ten minutes.
2. Keep your brain dumps and review them
You’ll want to keep at least some of your brain dumps. Many will have great ideas which will be useful in future.
I keep a paper brain dump journal. Currently it’s an Erin Condren notebook, but I’ve used many different kinds of paper notebooks; I usually go through several each year.
Here’s my main criteria for a brain dump notebook:
- Essential: high quality fountain-pen friendly paper in either letter size, A4 or foolscap;
- Must be easy to use and carry;
- A strong cover is a bonus.
I like the Erin Condren notebooks because: the paper’s great; the coils mean you can lay a notebook flat; the laminated covers are replaceable and you can use them as mini-whiteboards.
3. From brain dump to ACTION items
Many of your brain dumps will have actionable items. Some of them will have many.
I like to select just one action item from each brain dump and take action on it—even if I merely enter the item into my calendar—immediately.
Be wary of choosing too many items. If you create a brain dump that’s all actionable items, choose the most important three. When you choose too many, they’re added to your Task List and for most of us, our lists are already way too long.
Try doing a brain dump often: you’ll feel less stressed
How often should you use a brain dump?
One of my friends used brain dumps every day when she couldn’t deal with workplace politics and quit her job . She admits she was terrified: “I didn’t have much in the bank, so I knew I had to get a job quickly. I did a brain dump at least once a day—it took me three weeks to find a new job and my brain dumps helped.”
I’ll do a general brain dump at the beginning of each week and whenever I feel overwhelmed.
Try the brain dump process today. Does the process work for you? Please let me know in the comments.
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