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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Anxiety and Disorganization

Though my clients come from various educational, career, and cultural backgrounds, there are a few common threads I repeatedly observe. One of them is anxiety. Oftentimes, a person who suffers from general anxiety, may find that the struggle is spilling over into his or her perceived ability to maintain an organized environment at home or at work. Many people who struggle with organizing find that they feel overwhelmed the minute they attempt an organizing-related task. Others are able to begin work, but may lose their sense of direction and motivation while in the middle of completing the task. The following steps can help virtually anyone begin, continue, or complete organizing projects that may at first seem endless and cumbersome or downright overwhelming.

  1. Before beginning, think about the project in terms of manageable phases. Set a clearly defined end goal, and establish a realistic timeline. Don’t forget to think about how much time you would specifically like allocate to completing each phase in addition to creating an overall project deadline.
  2. If possible, approach each phase of the task with a clear mindset and adequate rest. Pausing to take periodic five-minute breaks can be extremely helpful. If time management is a concern, setting a timer may be an effective way to appropriately set boundaries between “working time” and “break time.”
  3. No negative self-talk. It’s true that we are oftentimes our worst critic. Instead of focusing on what you are afraid you will not accomplish, acknowledge small victories throughout the process, and look forward to completing each phase and starting a new one.
  4. If panic begins to set in, take a few deep breaths, and actively tell yourself not to panic. Oftentimes, remaining calm is a matter of slowing down, taking a step back, and making a very conscious decision to maintain a positive, peaceful focus.
  5. Take baby steps. Most of my clients begin to see progress when they begin by taking small steps toward “reclaiming” and improving an area of their home or office. I am always amazed at how quickly they become motivated to tackle larger and larger organizing projects, often without my supervision. More importantly, by slowly and deliberately working through the organizing process, they are able to self-identify any habits that may serve as obstacles to maintaining an orderly space, and they are eventually able to modify their behaviors and correct themselves by employing the tools and techniques they learn during our sessions.