By Caroline Bujold
Lately, I’ve felt so overwhelmed, it’s hard to think or sleep. Nothing major is happening, just my desire to finish this and that, start on project XYZ and having way too many things on the go.
Between work, regular life stuff like grocery shopping and meal planning, staying minimally active, a volunteer commitment and ideas I have for this blog; there are way too many thoughts floating around in my head fighting for my attention.
Looking at my To Do List, I also realized that it’s ginormous and physically impossible to get it all done in the timeframe I arbitrary selected.
Because I’m overwhelmed, I lack focus and tend to distract myself instead of eliminating distractions. I’ll binge watch TV at night or go down the Instagram rabbit hole for way longer than I intended to. Or I’ll plan for a super packed week, only to abandoned all hope of getting anything accomplished, because I’m mentally exhausted.
Then I just feel guilty and like a failure for not reaching my goals. What a mess!
Anyone else feel that way too? I have a solution for you and it’s called a Brain Dump.
How to do a brain dump and why it will help bring you mental clarity
It’s not a new method or something I invented. Just Google Mental White Space or Brain Dump and you’ll find all kinds of articles about this simple trick.
The idea here is to:
- Empty your head;
- Eliminate some items; and
- Prioritize the most important stuff.
And it should only take you about 30 minutes.
Empty your head
The exercise is simple, take a piece of paper, open a document on your computer or use my brain dump printable and write all, and I do mean ALL, the things you are thinking about: tasks, appointments, plans, as well as random thoughts. It can include the day-to-day stuff as well as future projects or obligations and thoughts that are just there.
Don’t sensor yourself; free flow the whole thing and don’t worry about sorting. Just get it ALL out.
Eliminate or relegate to future projects
Once your list is done, it’s time to eliminate. This is the most important step, in my opinion.
What could you eliminate from your list? Cross off as many tasks that fit the following categories as you can.
You said yes, but you should have said no thank you – Activities have you said yes to, but don’t really want to do and could realistically back out of.
It’s out of your control – Any random thoughts or situations you’ve written down but can’t do anything about? Cross them off too.
Fun but non-essentials for now – Are there projects that you keep putting on your list but never get to? Sadly, I have a few of those, like creating photobooks from our trips and learning how to knit. I still really want get to these activities, but obviously they are not essential and it would be OK if they didn’t happen right away. If you have any similar items on your list mark them with a dot, we’ll come back to them later.
Negative and non-essential – Lastly, what are tasks that you think you should do, but dread doing. I’m not talking about your taxes here, I’m talking about stuff you THINK you should do, but never get to because it’s making you feel sad, mad or uninspired!
One more thing to consider; are you making time for yourself?
Now that your list has shrunk, have a good look. What do you see? Is your list just a bunch of stuff other people need? If so, I suggest you add one or two Just ME items to your list. I know it feels counterintuitive when you are overwhelmed, but believe me if you feel frazzled, you need some self-care. Think coffee date with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, an hour to start a book that has been collecting dust for months or a nice longer walk with your dog. Your brain will thank you for it.
Now that you have a cleaned up list, make the magic happen.
Rewrite your list according to these categories: This Week, This Month, Whenever
Prioritize the most important tasks and add them to either your This Week List or This Month List.
If some items are too big, like Finish Basement for example, break them down into smaller tasks like:
- Write down wish list,
- Decide on budget,
- Get contractors’ quotes for basement plan,
Be careful not to add too many things for any given day (3 priorities per day) or per week (5-10 max depending on the time you think it might take you to get them done), you can always get more done if you finish all these priorities.
Usually this is the part that trips me up. I make lists, but resist allocating time for them. I tend to add too many items on my list and end up simply ignoring the deadline I’ve set up. Eliminating distractions is also something I’m continuously working on.
Everything else has to go on your Whenever List. The beautiful thing about this is YOU get to decide whenever happens by adding any specifics to your This Week or This Month Lists when they become a priority.
If you don’t use a planner or calendar system (wait WHAT?) simply rewrite your lists and stick them somewhere you can see them regularly and update them as you go: on your fridge, next to the mirror in the bathroom or on your coffee table for example.
At the end of the month, re-evaluate and repeat as necessary. Make it a practice. It should take you even less time, since you’re starting with an idea of what has been a priority.
How does that feel? What surprised you about this exercise? Were you able to eliminate enough tasks to make your schedule manageable? What was your biggest challenge?
Make sure to let me know in the comments below.