Your mind has a tendency to constantly remind you about any unfinished business. On the one hand, how nice of it to keep track of everything and try to remind us! On the other hand, you’d probably be much calmer if it didn’t do this whenever you’re trying to relax or focus on something. With the simple act of a “brain dump” (also known as a “mind sweep”), or in other words, writing down everything floating about in your mind, you’ll achieve a sense of peacefulness and calm. And free your brain up for more important tasks than worrying!
Try doing the brain dump whenever you start feeling frazzled, out of focus, your mind buzzing with thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t really matter if you use pen and paper or a computer, but choose something simple and fast to use, without any distractions like formatting or setting up the page or trying to make it look nice. Write down every task, to-do, obligation, unfinished business, undelivered promise, idea, project or anything that keeps going through your head. The goal is to get everything down as soon as you think of it, so you don’t forget it.
Once everything’s on paper (or a document, a file or a page on your computer/tablet/smartphone), then you start organizing and prioritizing and categorizing. Don’t do any processing right now, just focus on getting everything out of your brain and into some other kind of storage. When you free your mind from trying to remember everything you need to do, then you can focus on what you want to do about it and whether you should actually do anything or just let it go.
The first few things on your list will probably come quickly. Those are things that are at the forefront of your mind. When you run out of these and start slowing down, you can start thinking about different areas of your life to see if it jogs your memory. Start with personal life or work, and go from there. For example:
- Relationships: Spouse, Parents, Children, Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances…
- Home: Budget, Bills, Home improvement, Garden, Pets, Plants…
There are lists of areas or questions that might “trigger” your memory and help you with your brain dump, called “trigger lists” (very creative, I know). The original GTD book has such a list, reproduced on 43Folders. It’s quite comprehensive, but you might want to tweak it to fit your needs.
When you think you’re done with your list, leave it out for a while anyway. You’ll probably think of more stuff to add to it, so keep it close and easy to use for the rest of the day at least.
If you start getting anxious about ALL THE THINGS you have to do while writing your list, remember that this is not the time to think about the tasks. The mind sweep/brain dump is just the transfer of any open loops from your brain to your chosen storage. You will start processing things after finishing with the brain dump, but for now, focus only on capturing everything. You can even try giving yourself a time limit for the brain dump – that way you’ll be forced to just get things down without thinking too much.