Let’s take a moment to engage in some folk psychology. Your brain has a ‘working memory’, which it uses to tackle everyday tasks and process the present moment. It addresses incoming information and files it away for storage. It solves problems and comes up with ideas. And it’s oftentimes overloaded.
If you’re living in the modern world and are no stranger to worry, you will be familiar with the moments when your brain is processing what feels like a million thoughts at once. Your internal monologue may be along the lines of ‘It’s such a grey day – I should have brought an umbrella – My umbrella is getting old – Oh look a puppy – My friend has a puppy – I should call her – Must remember to buy milk – And call the bank – Ooh a sale sign – is my blue shirt in the wash?’ ad infinitum. Our brains are amazing things, and they really can handle so many thoughts at once. But if they’re faced with this every day, having to juggle all those thoughts, they can become tired and stressed. A working memory used up by your to-do lists cannot engage in creative thought, and struggles to solve problems.
Enter the ‘brain dump’. Not my favourite term, but it’s the concept that’s important here. A brain dump is a way of offloading all those busy thoughts from your working memory to a storage medium, freeing up valuable resources for thoughts that matter.
Take a large piece of paper – A3 size works well for me. Sit in a quiet room with no distractions. Take a pen, and start writing down every nagging thought that crosses your mind. (You can do this on the computer, but I find that pen and paper work better.) All those tasks you can’t seem to get around to, things that bug you, ideas that have been swirling around your head – get them all out.
This is one I started tonight. I’ve blurred most of it out, but there’s enough visible to give you an idea. Some people prefer to make a list, and there is nothing wrong with that, but personally I like to arrange things in little groups and sometimes draw links between them. This is only a beginning. You can expect to come up with hundreds of items. I would suggest leaving this sheet of paper somewhere visible for a few days. You might find yourself adding to it as you go along – your working memory will have layers of information, and the initial writing session merely scratches the surface.
Note: this is not a brainstorm; you’re not generating ideas. The purpose of this exercise is to make the thoughts already in your head a bit more visible, and your mind less busy so you can focus on actually thinking about things instead of just remembering them. If you’re struggling to think of things to write down, you can use something like this list to jog your memory.
The size of each task does not matter at this stage. On my paper, ‘hang some pretty lights’ lives side by side with ‘start a business’. The important thing here is to write everything down.
Do you feel lighter? Are you a little bit more relaxed?
This collection of thoughts and tasks is a good starting point for goal setting and getting organised. I will talk about how to use it next week.