by Susan McCarthy
A few years back I worked with a woman who would rattle off everything she needed to do after work and “joke” that she hoped she wouldn’t forget to do any of the tasks. Not to be obvious or anything, but I suggested that she write down her list and then number the order she wanted to tackle the tasks.
She laughed and said that it was good for her mind if she kept repeating the list. I would have found doing that crazy-stressful.
Productivity expert David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, recommends not relying on memory to keep track of all the tasks, projects, chores, errands, phone calls, etc. you have to do. He thinks we should use our minds for creativity and problem-solving instead of being a warehouse for to-do lists.
While I’ve never managed to incorporate the entire GTD (Getting Things Done) system into my life, I have adopted Allen’s Mind Sweep (aka Brain Dump) technique. While this is a productivity tool, I find that adapting this practice to more focused lists helps with single tasking (doing one thing at a time, as opposed to multi-tasking) which can leave you feeling calmer and less scattered.
What Is Mind Sweep (aka, Brain Dump)?
Whichever term you use to refer to this technique, the process is the same. You grab pen and paper (if you want to type it, you could) and list every (and I mean EVERY) tasks that you need to do (no matter how large or small or when you want it done by); any ideas you have for work, vacations, home projects, self-improvement, etc.; collect any thoughts that keep running through your mind.
Basically, a Mind Sweep corrals any task, project, or loose end whether you are currently working on it or not.
You then group tasks that have something in common (say, people to contact or that belong to different projects) onto smaller, focused lists.
Of course, listing everything in your mind can get overwhelming. Maybe you just want to make a list of things you want to do today, over the weekend, or throughout the week. Unfortunately, these lists can still leave you feeling stressed because you want to see all these things done.
You might try fitting the tasks into time blocks, but if you aren’t certain how long the tasks will take – or you don’t want to be so highly scheduled – then you may end up tackling the easiest tasks or working on whatever you feel like doing in the moment. But at some point you'll realize you still need to do the other tasks and you'll go back to feeling stressed.
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