Tools for Your Mind Sweep

In this article, you will get to think about the variety of tools you can use for conducting a mind sweep — now and in the future. There is no one best tool and I’ll give some perspective based on my experience working with hundreds of people in workshops + scores of coaching clients over the years.

1. Index cards…I encourage the heck out of index cards. I have taught this workshop many, many times in person around the country as well as virtually and I see what happens for folks and hear back later from those who choose to use index cards.

The size that is best for most people is the 3x5" type. They are small enough that if you decide you want to carry them around later, you can. They are also small enough that if you’re doing a sort, as we’ll discuss, you can do it in a reasonably-sized space like a kitchen counter, a desk, or a table at a coffee shop where you’re working.

3x5 cards are also ubiquitous enough that if you run out, you are likely to be able to find some if you dig through some drawers in your office, ask at the front desk (as I’ve done when traveling before), or run to a drug store to pick up when you’re experiencing an extravaganza of sweeping.

If you are worried that your handwriting is too big and you think you need larger 4 x 6" cards or even 5 x 8" ones, you will read in just a few minutes what you will be writing on the cards and will (I hope) realize that larger ones aren’t necessary because you’re not making a list or plotting out an entire project when you’re sweeping.

Note: A few years ago, 3 x 2 ½ inch cards started showing up at office supply stores. Those are also quite nifty to use — depending on the size of your handwriting.

However, not everyone loves index cards so let’s think about a few other suggestions that you may like to try.

2. Post-it notes work great — and I recommend that you get REAL post-it notes rather than cheaper sticky notes that may or may not stick. My use of the term Post-it® note is intentional because I do mean the brand.

Post-it® notes can be wonderful when you’re sweeping because you can stick them on the walls as you go or onto big chart paper to hang up. You may also simply lay them out. Just as index cards are easy to manipulate and sort and re-order, you can also manipulate Post-it® notes.

Generally, the 3 x 3 inch ones are the size to use.

3. Little pads of paper. When I very first started doing mini-mind sweeps with workshop participants at colleges and universities around the country, I would buy the little yellow 4x6'' notepads that had 50 sheets on a pad. Each person would get their own pad. However (and I made a big show of my additional pile up front) I had an abundance of extra pads up at the front table with the other workshop materials I was using. When we got to this part of the workshop, folks were told to write one thing they needed to do on each piece of paper. I said, “Do not make a list. I want you to put one idea per piece of paper,” and I said, “There’s a reason for that. Then, I want you to tear your paper off.”

I know people thought, “Well, can’t I just fold it back or something like that?” Nope. There was a reason, and one of the reasons was because of the sound that ensued. What happened in that room very quickly was that you began to hear, “Rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip,” and then finally there would be a few people who would say, “Um, I’ve used up all 50 of my pages. Can I get another pad?” Of course, that’s why I had brought such a pile of extras. Not everybody used up all 50, and some people simply could not bear the idea of not making a list.

Note: Smaller pads of paper will also work. And with these small pieces of paper, you’re still able to do some sorting of them later.

4. Mindmapping. I’m not going to go into what mindmapping is in this article but wanted to mention it as a tool you could use. If you are a person who already knows about mindmapping, consider using it for your mind sweeps. You may use paper or software, depending on your preference.

5. Loose paper is perfectly fine. It could be scratch paper such as the kind you’ve already run through your printer once but then you cut it in half and use the backs of it. Go ahead with that if you prefer. Also, once you become a mind sweeping aficionado, lack of your favorite tool for sweeping will not deter you. Many of us find that we can sweep anywhere, anytime, with any particular place to capture the ideas, even if it’s not our regular means to do so. I’ve done many a mind sweep on a plane when I couldn’t get to my full stash of tools but could still get some sweeping done!

6. Digital format. If you are determined to put this into a digital format, which also works great, you have MANY options. You could certainly open a new Word doc. I have also known people who used PowerPoint as if each slide were an index card because then they can sort when the slide deck is in Slide-Sorter view. If you do this, set up your PowerPoint Master slide so that the font is huge and easy to see before you start typing in any of the tasks you are sweeping. Here’s a template you can use or modify for your own use.

7. To-do list app. If you prefer a to-do list app, there are a multitude to choose from. I hesitate to suggest one particular one, but I have a client who uses TickTick and she is often doing some mind sweeping even during our coaching calls as she thinks of things she needs to do or follow up on. She knows if it gets in TickTick, she won’t lose the idea or have to think of it again!

8. Online project management tool. If you have an online project management tool then you may certainly use that. Right now before you start your sweep is not the time to be trying to learn a new one so only use this suggestion if you are already up and running with a particular tool.

And, if you like the notecard idea, but would rather have something digital AND you already use Scrivener for your writing, then it could work here, too because it’s a card-based system.

Folks, you cannot choose the wrong tool. Any one of these will work. The main idea is that have to get ideas, tasks, projects, wonderings, etc. out of your head. Once they are out of your head, then you can begin to manipulate it.

For right this minute, what you need to do is decide which tool you are going to use so we can get started. More on what to do next in an upcoming article…



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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh


Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed.