time management

Because Brain Dump Sounds Gross: Meet the Mind Sweep – A Better Way to Clear Your Head Without Making a Huge Mess

August 3, 2021

Reading Time: 12 minutes

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For the past few months, overwhelm has been a consistent theme in my life. And I’m not afraid to admit that. Yes, I might be a time management coach, but I’m also human. I get stressed out. Life doesn’t go as planned. Things happen, and overwhelm sets in. I’ve got an almost 5 month old and a toddler who is really leaning into all that comes with being a two-year-old. My childcare has been inconsistent, which means my work since coming back from maternity leave has been more inconsistent than I expected. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day or the week to do all of the big things that I want to do to make my big dreams a reality.

Do you know what that feels like?

If you’re listening, and you’re here with me – then I’ll bet you do. I’ll bet you know exactly what that feels like.

Your head is spinning, it can be hard to know what to do first or where to start.

But – what I’ve got as a time management coach is a toolbox full of different strategies and tactics to combat overwhelm, create clarity out of chaos and move forward with an intentional next step. I use the same exact tools in my day-to-day life that I share with my time management coaching clients.

It’s like those Hair Club for men ads from back in the day, “I’m not just the president of Hair Club for men, I’m a member too.” 

And today – I’m sharing with you one of my favorite and in recent months, most used strategies for battling overwhelm and moving forward with clarity in taking action. I’m going to introduce you to The Mind Sweep.

Inside Episode 90, you’ll find out:

  • Why a Mind Sweep is one of the best ways to turn chaos into clarity

  • How a Mind Sweep is different from – and better than – a Brain Dump

  • What to do after a Mind Sweep so you put a stop to the cycle of overwhelm

  • Plus – I’ve created something just for you so you can make the most of your next mindsweep – and it’s free.



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Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed.

I mean, if you’re not raising your hand, I assume you’re keeping both hands on the steering wheel out of safety or you’re totally fibbing right now.

Overwhelm happens to everyone.

The older we get. The more responsibility we have at work, in our businesses, in our families – the more overwhelm becomes a regular part of our lives.

And it’s no fun.

All too often when we feel overwhelmed, we try to solve it by working harder, working longer, or working on things that don’t need to be worked on at all. Hello fake productive busy work that only keeps us spinning faster in a hamster wheel and still getting nowhere.

Overwhelm can take on a lot of different forms. Our brains can feel so scrambled with thoughts and decisions to be made that we can’t think straight. We break out into a cold sweat, or, you know – a hot sweat if you’re out in the summertime heat. We can’t sleep because our thoughts are swirling. We start forgetting things. We get snappy. We’re on edge. We get distracted easily and suddenly the forgetfulness hits a level 10. You know you’ve got to do SOMETHING but there’s so much that you don’t know where to start.

It’s enough to make you want to crawl under the covers and hide.

But for most of us, that’s not an option. And even if we can camp out under a blanket, we have to come out sometime and face the music.

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I go back to this simple strategy over and over again. And it always helps me find more clarity. It helps me prioritize. And it helps me calm down so I can take deliberate action – instead of running around like a chicken with my head cut off putting out fires.

Meet the Mind Sweep

It’s called a Mind Sweep.

So what exactly is a Mind Sweep?

In a nutshell, it’s a method for getting everything out of your head and onto paper – or into a Google Doc or wherever you’re capturing your thoughts.

I like to think of it as the Brain Dump’s classier cousin. Full disclosure I haaaaaate the phrase Brain Dump. Bleh – I don’t even like saying it. But a Brain Dump and a Mind Sweep are different, even beyond their names.

Mind Sweep v. Brain Dump

Here’s the difference.

In case you’re not familiar with the term Brain Dump, it’s also getting everything out of your head, and onto paper. But there’s not really a method to the madness. It’s just getting your thoughts out, whether you do it by making a list or free writing into paragraph form.

It’s effective at getting things out, but it’s kind of like taking the mess of thoughts in your brain, and creating a new mess on paper. And it can continue the train of overwhelm, because now you have to sort through all of the junk you just dumped out on paper.

I mean, imagine pulling out the junk drawer in your kitchen and dumping it on the floor. That doesn’t really help much… the junk is just in a new spot.

Even worse – some of us take that brain dump list and automatically turn it into a to-do list. So now you’ve got a messy list of junk, that’s not prioritized in any way, and you start haphazardly trying to take action on it. And because the list is so long and random, you don’t make much progress, and then you feel bad because you didn’t get “enough” done. It’s kind of a recipe for disaster.

On the flip side, a Mind Sweep is a little more methodical. We pictured dumping the junk drawer on the floor and making a mess. Now imagine yourself sweeping the floor in your kitchen. When you sweep, you’re not just randomly swishing the broom around to see what happens – I mean… unless you’re like my 2 and a half year old daughter with her little Melissa and Doug play broom.  No! When you sweep, you start at the edges and work in a certain direction. Every swish of the broom has a purpose, and you’ve got an end goal in mind.

That’s what we want to do when we Mind Sweep.

We get everything out of our head in a deliberate and purposeful way so that we’re not just dumping junk on a page, we’re sweeping out the cobwebs so we can get more clarity and start fresh.

David Allen who designed the Getting Things Done productivity system said, “Our Minds are for having ideas, not holding them.” We just don’t have the mental capacity to hold everything ever in our short term memory.

And when we try? That’s when overwhelm sets in.

And if you’ve never heard of David Allen or Getting Things Done – have no fear. Getting Things Done is a kind of complicated system for capturing and processing information in your life and work so that you never miss a thing. He wrote a book that talks all about it, and even though the system itself is great, Getting Things Done is one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Sorry David. Big Fan. Boring Book. Anyway. Part of the full GTD System, as people call it, is doing a Weekly Review. And part of that Weekly Review involves doing a Mind Sweep.

You definitely don’t have to read the book or implement the full blown GTD system to benefit from doing a regular Mind Sweep. Lately I’ve been starting my day with a Mind Sweep so I don’t feel so scattered whenever I sit down to work.

So – if you want to cut back on overwhelm and have more clarity around what you need to do now, and what you need to do next so you can stop feeling stuck and start taking action – here’s how you can do a Mind Sweep.

How to do a mind sweep

01. Decide where you’ll capture your thoughts.

First – decide where you’ll capture your Mind Sweep thoughts. In a notebook? On a blank white sheet of paper? On one of those giant sticky post-its you put on the wall? In a Google Doc? In trello cards? The possibilities are endless, and you’ll know what works best for you. Sometimes you might have to try a few things to find your best spot.

One of my former clients, a Chief Development Officer for an international nonprofit used to keep a Board on Trello – my favorite task management program – called Mind Sweeps. And each Sunday before beginning the week, she’d do a mind sweep and create a card for each of the ideas and thoughts that emerged. From there, she was able to categorize and assign the cards to different members of her team to take action. This helped her start fresh on Mondays instead of letting ideas continue to roll around in her head.

I like Mind Sweeping the old fashioned way and putting pen to paper. The tactile process of moving ideas from my head, through my arm, through the pen – a royal blue flair pen to be exact, of course – and onto paper just feels good. It’s almost as if I can feel my mental load lightening.

Regardless of where you keep your mind sweep, your first step is to decide where. And you don’t even have to  mind sweep in the same place every time. I mean, you could create a special Mind Sweep board on trello. Or you could have a special notebook completely dedicated to Mind Sweeps if you want to – but you don’t have to.

02. Decide what you’re sweeping.

Okay – Step Two – decide what you’re sweeping. This is the biggest difference between the Brain Dump and the Mind Sweep, remember? Brain Dumps are all over the place. Mind Sweeps are intentional.

And when you decide what you’re sweeping, you can be super simple, or super specific.

Keep it simple.

Simple could look like choosing the words life and work.

What’s everything rolling around in your head relating to work?  What’s on your mind regarding current work projects, deadlines, marketing, promotions, partnerships, budgets, events and concerns?

And on the other side what’s everything rolling around in your head relating to life? Anything relating to kids, vacations, home stuff, health or medical appointments, laundry, housekeeping, upcoming birthdays, whatever.


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Get specific.

But – if you really want the full power of a mind sweep, you get specific. In the book Getting Things Done by David Allen that I mentioned earlier, he recommends using lists of words that trigger thoughts about a variety of different things relating to life and work. So as you’re doing your mind sweep, you work your way down the list of words and write down anything that comes to mind. Everything from letters and calls to repairs and landscaping. Laundry and luggage, to birthdays and baby showers. In effect, you’re sweeping out the cobwebs of your mind and getting into all the little nooks and crannies that you might not have thought of doing a typical brain dump.

If your mind is swirling with stuff, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’re not sure where to start, and if you really want to see what it’s like to have a calm, peaceful, uncluttered mind – y’all this is where it’s at.

So if you’re listening now and you’re thinking – oh my gosh, this sounds amazing. What on earth is this magical list of words and how can I get my hands on it?

Well – I’ve got something just for you! Inspired by David Allen’s list of mind sweep trigger words. All you have to do is click here, pop your email address in the box, and they’ll be waiting for you in your inbox quick, fast and in a hurry.

Okay – so… Let’s fast forward. you’ve downloaded your free Mind Sweep lists. You’ve done your first Mind Sweep and you’re feeling more clarity and calm than you’ve felt in a while.

What’s next?

after the mind sweep

Here’s what to do when you’re done – and the answer is most definitely NOT to turn this giant list into a to-do list and start tackling things one by one. Absolutely not.

Instead, we’re going to continue the intention we brought to the mind sweep.

01. Enjoy that feeling of lightness!

First – enjoy the feeling that you have. You probably feel a little lighter now that your mind has stopped swirling.

02. Create some categories.

Second – scan the list. Can you break things down further into categories. For example, if you’re serving a number of different clients, can you organize your list by client or by project? Whether your grab a highlighter to create visual categories or you rewrite the list with new groupings, doing a quick categorization can help you see where most of your action lies.

03. Break out projects v. tasks.

Third – Your list probably contains a mix of projects and tasks. Let’s talk about the difference real quick. A project is anything that has more than 1 step to complete.

Buy a new car is an example of a project, Choose 3 new cars to research is a task. One of the most common reasons why we end the day without crossing things off of our to-do list is because our list is full of projects, instead of tasks. So we might spend hours working on a few tasks for one project, but not finish the whole project – so even though we made good progress – progress to be proud of – we still feel bad for not crossing it off the list.

When you identify something on your Mind Sweep that’s a project, put the letter P next to it so you can come back to it later and map out the tasks within the project.

04. Eliminate. Automate. Delegate.

Alright – Step 4 – Let’s lighten the load. What on the list can you eliminate? And be ruthless – what can you get rid of because it doesn’t make much difference after all. Sometimes getting everything out of your head and onto paper can help you realize that you’ve been hanging onto something that doesn’t actually need to be done at all. And if you can’t eliminate it altogether, is there anything on the list that you can delegate? Whether it’s to a coworker, your husband, your kids, your virtual assistant, an intern – what can you delegate and get off your plate.

Delegation can also look like taking advantage of a service like Shipt to have your groceries delivered, or Hampr to have your laundry washed, dried and folded for you. Sidenote – you can actually save 50% on a Hampr membership when you sign up using the code ABOUTTIME50. Hampr’s laundry service has been a gamechanger at our house. 

05. Prioritize

But onto Step 5 – With everything that’s left – it’s time to prioritize. Remember – the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, tells us that some stuff is just more important than other stuff. Don’t tell me that everything is important – because when everything is important, nothing is important. Even if everything on your list is important, some stuff is going to be more important than other stuff.

And if prioritizing sounds intimidating or makes you want to shut down, just think of it as ranking. What is the absolute most important thing on the list that you need to tackle like… yesterday. Go through the list, add some rankings, whether your use numbers or words like Now and Later and Someday.

06. Schedule

And finally – Step 6. For the most urgent things on the list – schedule them into your day and into the next week with time blocks. When are you going to tackle these things? How do they fit into your day? What is realistic? Scheduling when you’ll tackle certain things keeps you from trying to cram 37 things into a single day, and then being disappointed with yourself when you can’t do all 37. It also helps you manage expectations with others if the amount of time available to you and the number of urgent things on your list don’t match up. What can truly wait until later?

recap

Okay – there you have it. Mind Sweep – a better more effective way to brain dump. Again, ew, I hate that phrase.

When you do a Mind Sweep, you methodically sweep out all of the cobwebs of your mind and get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper so you can then process those thoughts in a methodical way. You can keep a Mind Sweep simple and separate your sweep into Life and Work, or you can be specific and use a Mind Sweep List of words to trigger thoughts on a variety of things in order to totally clear your head and start fresh.

Once you’ve got it all out

  • Enjoy the feeling of lightness

  • Identify the projects vs. the tasks

  • Eliminate and delegate things that are unnecessary or that could be done by someone else – or a service like Hampr

  • Prioritize and finally

  • Create time blocks and schedule WHEN you’ll tackle what’s on your list.

By using a Mind Sweep as a tool in your time management tool box, you’ll have a simple and very effective way to get the clarity you need to stop feeling overwhelmed and start spending time on what matters most.


next level life

And if you’re excited about creating your Reset Ritual so you can handle what life throws at you with calm and clarity, then I’ve created something just for you. I want you, my It’s About Time listeners to be the first to know about Next Level Life – the newest opportunity to work with me to take control of your time and achieve your big goals. 

You’ve listened to the episodes, and you’ve implemented what you’ve learned here and there – but what if you could work directly with me, alongside a tight-knit community of like-minded, ambitious women to take yourself, your business, your career to the next level?

Whether you’re growing your empire as a small business owner, or you’re climbing the latter and shattering glass ceilings, you’re invited to be a founding member of Next Level Life.

Weekly coaching sessions, a growing lesson library, private community and so much more – Next Level Life is the balanced approach to wholehearted living that you’ve been looking for, with me by your side for accountability, encouragement and motivation. 

In the last year I’ve coached 22 women on their path to living with more confidence, clarity and intention by helping them make the most of their time. Time is our most precious nonrenewable resource, and the one thing all of my clients have in common is that they want to live fulfilling lives with no regrets.

They want to grow their business, but also take vacation.

They want to get promoted, without sacrificing time with their families.

They want to work full time, go to grad school and still have the space to travel.

If that sounds like you, then I’d be honored to have you as a Founding Member of Next Level Life. Join the waitlist.


LINKS & RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Next Level Life: Join the Waitlist to get all the details on this brand new coaching community for busy, ambitious women who want MORE out of life.

Grab your FREE Mind Sweep Lists to help you get specific during your next Mind Sweep.

Read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Or Don’t. It’s a really boring book.

Take back your time spent doing laundry with Hampr and save 50% on your membership with the code ABOUTTIME50


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