Day 8 – Dump Your Brain to Free Your Mind

“You must weed your mind as you would weed your garden.” — Astrid Alauda
Your Outcome: Turn your mind from a carnival funhouse or haunted mansion to your own private den.  Free your mind up to focus on better things.  This is part of achieving a "peaceful calm" state of mind, as well as getting rid of the "buzz" in your mind, or the nagging reminders that interrupt your focus throughout the day.  Rather than use your brain as a depot for random ideas, "To Do" lists, reminders, and general mind clutter — you’ll have a place for dumping your brain and unshackling your mind.
Welcome to day 8 of 30 Days of Getting Results.  In day 7 we learned how to setup boundaries and buffersas a way to recharge our batteries, set the stage for work-life balance, and create a foundation for a sustainable life style.  Today, we’ll de-clutter our minds and give ourselves space to think, dream, or simply wonder around without bumping into so much mental clutter, mental chatter, and noise.
The Mental Chatter is There for a Reason
Before we start doing any brain dumping, we need to know why this works and why it’s so important.  All those things on your mind, are probably there for a reason.  They’re reminding you that you’ve got stuff on your plate that needs attention.  There are things that could threaten your quality of life, or that are blocking you from the quality of life you’d like to enjoy.  Many of the things bugging you, are actually useful, whether it’s for motivation or simply for reminders.
Thinking on Paper to Dump Your State 
However, your mind is not where all the things bugging you belong.  Stream of conscious thinking is way less effective than thinking on paper.  When you dump your state on paper, you can stop trying to remember what you were thinking about, and instead focus on what you want to do about it, or whether you can just let it go, or prioritize something else.  When it’s on paper, you free your mind.  When it’s on paper you can slice it and dice it in a more effective way, or sort it in a way that works for you, instead of against you.
Thinking on paper is how you go from soup to sanity.
The opposite approach is to let things lurk in your mind, where every corner you turn, something jumps out at you — surprise!– or each thought turns into a Jack-in-the-Box, or each idea is like looking straight into a Funhouse mirror.
3 Ways to Dump Your Brain
There are three common ways to dump your brain:
  1. Daily brain dumps.   Have a place to write things down.  For me, on my computer I keep Notepad (a plaintext editor) open and I dump things down throughout the day.  It’s a simply a tickler list.  Rather than let it bounce around, I write it down.  This helps me stay focused throughout the day, without worrying about what I’m forgetting.  At the end of the day, before I go home, I dump down whatever “state” I’ve built up in my mind, such as things I still want to accomplish.  If I have a bunch of browser windows open, I simply paste the URLs into my open Notepad in case I want to “rehydrate” my state at another time.  I simply save these brain dumps with the current date: “20010-08-06”, “2010-08-07”, “2010-08-08”, etc.  This way I can flip back through them if I want, or just let them go.  It’s my “dumping ground.”
  2. Periodic brain dumps.   This is where you periodically dump everything down that’s top of mind or tugging at you.  It’s just a long, flat bulleted list of anything that keeps popping into your mind.  You take a few minutes and you just keep dumping until your brain says, “OK, I think it looks like you got everything I’ve been trying to tell you.”  This might be many pages, or you might find your mind was simply a broken record and it’s been telling you the same five things again and again.  Once your mind feels heard, and you’ve echoed it back by writing it down, your mind can now shift into what it does best – problem solving.  In my case, again I use Notepad and I simply title the file today’s date (“2010-08-08 – Master List”)  I tend to add a distinction in case I have my daily brain dump and my mother-load.
  3. Pen and paper on the go.   Simply carry a notepad, a sticky pad, or index files with you.   It’s nothing fancy, but it is effective.  Rather than let things float around in your mind, jot them down.  You’ll get very effective, very quickly at keeping tight tickler lists to remember gobs of information.   A single word might be just enough to help you jump back to that idea you had to change the world.  As a key tip, use The Rule of 3 to keep things simpler.  For example, when I’m in a meeting or taking training, I’ll shoot for walking away with three take aways over a laundry list of things.
In all of these cases, you’re factoring your thinking from your chatter and your reminders.  This is like factoring editing from your writing – write it down, then edit.  (As an aside, Hemmingway edited for an hour and wrote for an hour.)
Once you have your lists, you are empowered to turn them into action, and you can simply do so by chunking them into stories, and fitting them into your three stories for the week, or three stories for the day.
Example of a Periodic Brain Dump
Here’s a quick example of a periodic brain dump.  All I did was dump the things that are bugging me around the house:
  • Clear the growth along the path
  • Clear the growth around the deck
  • Clear the growth on the back driveway
  • Get rid of stuff that’s no longer useful
  • Downsize book collection
  • Fix the gutters on the house
  • Fix the gutters on the garage
  • Fix the front deck
  • Fix the back deck
  • Re-tile bathroom 1
  • Fix the shower in bathroom 1
  • Add a border to the back lawn
  • Re-tile bathroom 2
  • Take down the tree
  • Get a new fence
  • Fix the floor in den 2
  • Fix the window in den 2
  • Fix the floor in the kitchen
  • Shred the papers
That was step one.  it’s random and it’s just a quick dump of my top of mind things.  Step two would be sorting it and analyzing it against what I want to accomplish.   That’s where my map of Hot Spots really comes into play, because I can see at a glance what’s on my radar and what’s important.
Today’s Assignment
  1. Dump your brain.  Simply make a list and dump out everything that’s top of mind or tugging at your thoughts.
  2. Take a moment to enjoy the fact that you uncluttered your mind and gave it some breathing room.  Let yourself play with the possibilities.
  3. If you’re really feeling gung-ho, then review your list and find some low hanging fruit.  For example, the simplest thing on my list is shredding papers, and I enjoy it, so I’m gong to tackle that.  For the other things, I’ll have to step back, prioritize against what I want to accomplish, then make a simple plan.