Brain Dump Strategy – Creating a Chronological Notebook

Most of us can relate to having stray thoughts that emerge throughout the day while we are trying to complete our scheduled tasks. For some, these thoughts come one at a time and are generally not too bothersome. Others may be plagued by nagging recurring thoughts or a mind that constantly races and makes focusing on any task a challenge. This particular method of brain dumping is a quick way to transfer stray thoughts from your mind onto paper. By transferring things from your head to a physical page, you can permanently save the thought and revisit it later when you are not attempting to focus on another unrelated task. Storing your thoughts on paper can also help ease the anxiety that drives some people to replay the same thought over and over again. When you have written the idea down on paper, you no longer have to burden yourself with repeatedly reminding yourself of it.

How to Maintain a Daily Brain Dump Notebook 

 

  1. Select a small, portable notebook, and keep it accessible throughout the day.
  2. Begin a new page each day by labeling the page with the current date.
  3. Whenever you have difficulty focusing, write down all stray thought, reminders, recurring ideas that enter your mind and distract you. Make a note if the thought requires revisiting.
  4. Once the thought is written down on paper, give yourself permission to move on and complete the current task at hand.
  5. At the end of each day, set aside 15 minutes to review what you have written on the current page of your brain dump notebook. Revisit all thoughts that required further evaluation or action. If you have written yourself reminders, transfer them to your upcoming to-do list and/or daily calendar.

OPTIONAL: Reserve the first two pages in your notebook to create a running index. As you fill in pages chronologically, update your index by labeling each week or calendar month and listing the page range that covers it (example: “January: Pages 3 to 32” or “January 1st – 7th…….Pages 3-11”). Labeling your index according to corresponding dates will help in the event that you need to review your notes from several weeks or months ago.

Brain Dumping for Prioritization

Conducting a brain dump is a productivity strategy that essentially allows us to transfer the information that fills our mind to paper, a dry erase board, or a digital format. Brain dumping has several benefits:

  • Facilitates the process of getting organized
  • Minimizes the risk of forgetting important dates, details, and ideas
  • Creates more “free space” in the brain for creative thought
  • Helps quiet the mind

There are many ways to do a brain dump. This post will cover a more intensive brain dump strategy that can be especially helpful to those of us who struggle with schedule-building and indecisiveness. The following method is an adaptation of an article that was published by Lifehacker.

Step 1: Make Your Lists.

In this case, the lists will be entitled “Must Do,” “Want to Do,” and “Maybe.”  Be sure to give yourself ample room to list everything that comes to mind, make edits, and add notes to the list.

Step 2: Finalize and confirm the “Must Do” list. 

Your “Must Dos” are events and tasks you have already verbally or mentally committed to doing. In this step, you will simply confirm and reconfirm plans then write your “Must Dos” down on your calendar and, if necessary, set reminders. This is also an opportune time to call and send emails to confirm upcoming meetings and appointments.

Step 3: Evaluate your “Want to Do” list.

“Want to Dos” consist of everything you want to do, but have yet to plan. Look over the Want to Do list, and ask yourself if these are all things you really want to do. Then write a number beside each item according to level of priority; “1” corresponds to the item on the list that is the highest priority to you. You may have to change and reassign numbers as you proceed down the list. Or, on the contrary, it may be 100% clear to you which items you prioritize more than others. Next, look at your low-priority items. Ask yourself whether you are 100% certain that you want to do these things. If not, transfer them to the “Maybe” list. If you are 100% certain that a particular item is something you have zero interest in doing, simply eliminate that item altogether.

Step 4: Evaluate your “Maybe” List.

For people who have difficulty making decisions, the “Maybe” list will probably be the longest of the three. Look at each item on the list, and ask yourself whether the item is 1) something you really want to do, 2) something you really NEED to do, and 3) whether you need more information to decide. If the item is either 1) something you want to do or 2) something you need to do, transfer it to the “Want to do list.” In some cases, you may come across items on the Maybe list that you need to fast-track to the “Must Do” list and add to your schedule, for example, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or applying to a program in which you have decided you want to participate. You will also encounter items on your “Maybe” list that you now realize you no longer want to do. Have no shame in crossing these items off completely. Lastly, f you need more information to make a decision about an item on the list, make a note detailing the actions you need to take to get the information you require to proceed with making a decision. Forward progress is the objective!

With an increased focus on prioritizing, this type of brain dump requires a little more mental energy and critical thinking than a general brain dump. But for anyone who has difficulty with scheduling and decision-making, this is a very effective strategy to help streamline events and tasks in a manner that naturally flows into an organized calendar.

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Quick-Start Solutions: Simple Rescue Strategy for Rooms That Are Buried in Paperwork

Sick and tired of unorganized…*things*? Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of getting tackling that nondescript pile of stuff? I’m here to help. This exercise will help you move one non-painful, very manageable, highly productive step toward getting organized.

Problem: Help! My living room/dining room/bedroom/office/kitchen/the doghouse is overflowing with papers that are of questionable importance!

Solution: Go grab some empty file folders. If you don’t have any lying around the house, run to your nearest office supply store/drug store/grocery store…or scroll to the bottom to see some cool folders Amazon can have on your doorstep within 1 to 2 days…depending on your shipping preferences [note: affiliate links included].

If you don’t have folders right this second, you can still separate the papers into piles, but label the piles CAREFULLY, and clip the papers in each pile together using a paperclip or binder clip. Now. We’re ready to begin:

1. SET A GOAL, and determine how much paperwork you would like to clean up in your current session. Be realistic. If you know you only have the energy to work on the task for 30 minutes, set a timer for 30 minutes. If you can work for a full hour…POWER HOURRR! Let’s Go!

2. Create categories,  and label each folder according to the types of papers you have. If you can’t think of categories, try starting with these: Health, Home, Work, Finance, Bills, Leisure. Some of you may need to add a category for School. If you have kids, each child should have his or her own folder…but for starters, you can keep them all in one folder. For now. You WILL have to go back and separate everything out, though. So it’s best to just make a folder for each child if you have a massive amount of paperwork coming in from school, hobbies, etc.

3. Pick up one piece of paper. Determine which category the paper best fits. Example, if you pick up a car insurance bill, file it in the “bills” folder. If you can’t decide within 30 second, set the paper aside, and revisit it at the end. 

4. Repeat process until you can see the table/desk/floor/interior of the oven (yes, I’ve seen this before) or wherever your unruly papers have been landing. Advanced tip: (file your papers in chronological order as you add them to the folders; doing this now will save time when you need to access these papers later…and you WILL need to access your papers later: either to use them, to file them more permanently, OR to throw them away).
5. When finished, store the folders in a standing file box or file cabinet so you can access them later.
***If you still have remaining papers to clean up, don’t worry. Pull out your calendar, and schedule another time WITHIN THE NEXT 7 DAYS to continue the task. Write it down as an “appointment!” Keep repeating these “appointments” until all papers have been cleaned up and appropriately filed.
Maintenance: Set aside a general basket, bin, or letter tray to collect paperwork throughout the week. Choose one designated day each week to clear out the basket and file paperwork in its rightful folder. Eventually, the papers should go into a permanent file cabinet or drawer. But I will discuss that in a future post in the interest of keeping it simple and just focusing on quick cleanup strategies for now.
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