This month, I’m showing you how to get all your to-do’s out of your head and into an efficient system so you stop forgetting things. Sound good? After all, your brain should be for analysing and feeling and creating and connecting… It shouldn’t be concerned with crap like endlessly reminding you to buy milk or mend your bike. So let’s sweep the cobwebs off that poor, overworked cranium and get cracking, shall we?
Your thoughts can be very scattered things. There’s no sheepdog up there corralling them together into a pen — they’re free to roam the wilds of your wandering mind and, as a consequence, can often get lost. Some will be found again, and some will stray forever.
If you don’t write them down and examine them, you won’t know which ones are worth your time and effort. Keeping them locked up in your head will inevitably lead to overcrowding, and so your brain will just start leaking lambs, both good and bad.
Your brain gives equal weight to every random thought you have, so it will treat “I need to pick up the kids from school” the same way it’ll treat “I want a muffin”. And it’ll forget with impunity too.
When your thoughts are written down, however, they can be reviewed, revised, re-written, nurtured, grown… or set free. You’re seeing everything together at once, and then giving yourself permission to let go of the non-priorities.
When I feel like things are running away with me and I need to re-focus, I sit down and clear my mind of anything that’s taking up precious space — reminders, appointments, tasks, random thoughts and observances, blog post ideas, gift ideas, things I need to research… I call this a “brain dump” and I’ve already written a post on how I do it and why if you’d like to take a look: Brain Dump — What It Is & How To Do It
David Allen, in his bestselling book “Getting Things Done” (which I can’t recommend enough if you’re a productivity nerd), uses a similar method called a “mind sweep”. You can call it whatever you damn please, but the principle must remain the same — get shit out of your head and into a trusted system that you regularly read and review.
I know a lot of people struggle with the “brain dump” idea because, when they sit down, they struggle to come up with anything. They feel like they’re trying to force the situation in one sit-down session.
Well, the mind sweep may just be the answer because, instead of trying to remember and come up with things to add to your list, you’re just going about your day and allowing them to spring up naturally as you get stuff done. Instead of being the shepherd who waits for the flock to come to her, you’re going out to find it on your own.
It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant the thought may seem, and it doesn’t matter if you put it on paper or in an app — if it pops into your head, it needs to be written down. Then you can go about your business as usual. All you have to do is sit down at the end of the day, or whenever suits best, to go through everything and see what’s worth keeping, where it needs to go (calendar, to do list, journal, etc.), and what’s just junk.
And now’s as good a time as any to start! On January 1st, I decided that, instead of putting time aside to do my traditional “brain dump”, I was going to keep a notebook beside me so I could jot down things as they occurred. And let me tell you, it was a long list!
But, far from feeling discouraged, it felt good to know that I wasn’t going to forget anything. Instead of looking at the list and feeling overwhelmed by its length, I was happy in the knowledge that not everything on it would have to be done — it would be up to me to review and revise it.
Some items were just random thoughts I had, some were checklists I want to follow for doing certain things (like my monthly review, which I’ll be sharing very soon), some were just a quick capture of my current site stats, some were short tasks requiring only a matter of seconds (eg. take a picture of X), some were sightly longer tasks, and some were mere musings.
So, to stop forgetting things in 2016, start capturing and collecting all those stray thoughts.
Your notebook or app or whatever you use will be your sheepdog — use it to corral and contain all those poor little lost lambs in one place.
And remember that there’s no point assembling if you’re not also assessing. Some thoughts you will end up releasing back into the wild because you realise they’re not of any benefit to you, or the time and effort involved is too much. Others can go back to the herd to live happily ever after in your journal, and others will require segregation for special attention.
In next week’s post, I’ll be showing you what to do with all the sheep worth saving, so be sure to check back for that (or just subscribe to the newsletter so you can have all the links emailed to you at the end of the month in one handy digest).
But when you go to bed tonight, don’t just count those sheep, write them down! 😉