Let’s establish a definition for mind sweep.
Some people call it a “brain dump”, which is fine and is rather a graphic description. So you can think about it that way. Maybe you call it a mind dump or you think of it as a “cleanse” for your mind.
The idea is that it is a stem to stern mental declutter.
Throughout your mind sweep (possibly prompted by the series of articles I’m writing), you will be rooting around in the recesses of your brain, just as you would be doing if you were doing a major declutter of your basement, attic, or garage. In this case, you are working to get yourself mentally decluttered.
One benefit that you may be surprised about is that when you do a mental declutter, it also helps with emotional decluttering, spiritual decluttering, and I promise you there is some physical decluttering that’ll end up happening as a result of this. It’s rather magical — although no longer surprising to me because I’ve experienced it and observed it so many times.
David Allen, the GTD® (Getting Things Done) guru, is the person who brought this concept to so many people’s consciousness and if you haven’t read his book, Getting Things Done, it would be worth doing so.
Throughout your mind sweeping times, you’ll be prompted to get anything and everything out of your head and onto paper, index cards, a list, or any other place that is easy for you to use and access again in the future. In the next article, I’ll be much more specific about the tools that I recommend and why. But for now, know very clearly that you will be getting tasks, projects, wonderings, and more out of your head to another holder where it’s easier for you to examine them.
That’s the key — out of your head. As long as things are in your head and that’s the only place they are, you can’t sift and sort and prioritize, and figure out how things are supposed to work, assess the length of time needed, determine clear next steps, and on and on. When it’s in your head, that’s not the good place for actually moving tasks and projects along.
Someone who was in the real-time version of one of my recent mind sweeping workshops said, “As I sit and review the handouts, I can feel the strong desire to run away, anxiety rising over the overwhelming size of the professional and personal to-do list. I want to bury my head in the sand. I am thinking this emotional response is not unique.”
As you’re doing this, you may also feel the strong desire to run away from your “sweeping time” because you feel anxiety about telling the truth about your personal and professional to-do list. This is not unusual — and imagine me being right there to encourage you to keep going.
You’re also encouraged to find or draw an image of a rainbow as a symbol.
The arc of a rainbow represents what tends to happen as people start doing their first (or their first in a long time) mind sweep. Picture going up a rainbow until you get to the top and how it might feel stressful to be so high up. But then you begin going down the other side and we know what we find at the end of a rainbow, right?
May I tell you one funny story to illustrate my experience of anxiety?
Years ago, my good friend, Rena, and I decided we wanted to go to a live David Allen seminar so we flew to Seattle, stayed in a lovely W hotel and showed up bright and early for our full day seminar. There were about 200 people in the room and David Allen was his energetic, passionate self as he led the workshop. At one point, he asked us to think about how clear our minds were and how confident we were that we had our psychic RAM empty, with 10 being, “Mind like water,” (his phrase) and 1 being, “It’s all in my head.” He asked us to raise our hands if we were 9 or 10 and my hand flew up. I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I know about writing things down when they occur to me. I’m in good shape. I teach this stuff, too.’
In my peripheral vision, I caught the movement of my friend’s head as she whirled around to look at me. We have laughed about this so many times because she could have hurt herself as her head came around so quickly. We have also laughed at the memory of what happened next. Because in the next part of the workshop, David Allen prompted us to keep thinking about what else we had on our minds and let’s just say my mind was NOT like water. And I became nearly physically ill the longer I sat there and kept writing, so much so that at one of the breaks, I went and got a little trash can to sit next to me. It was that bad.
So…I also know about the arc. I feel your pain. And your potential nausea!
Simone Weil, once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
I would like to invite you to be generous with yourself throughout this process and to consider these rules:
1. Set a timer. There is no set time that I will recommend but timers will help you in two ways. Firstly, it will help you stay on task for a set period of time if you are worried that you will get distracted or avoid doing your sweep by getting involved in something else. I would start with at least 15 minutes. Once you have gone through the whole process, you may certainly use shorter time periods and get a lot “swept” but for now, I’ll recommend at least a 15-minute period.
The second benefit of using a timer is that it will remind you to STOP every so often for a break. Generally, 45 or 50 minutes is a good upper limit before taking a break. Your mind and body will both need to get some air, some water, a refresh on your beverage, etc. Online timers, kitchen timers, phone timers, whatever you have is fine.
2. Focus. You need to do everything you can to let other people know that you are off limits when you’re doing your intense sweeping. If you are the office, you may need to put up a sign that says, “I’m unavailable until…”. If you’re at home, I hope you’ve alerted other people (if you have other people in your house) that this is not a good time for them to be interrupting you.
3. Also, when you begin the sweeping, I want you to keep up with the sweeping. You might have a temptation to go ahead and do some of the tasks you are coming up with. I’m encouraging you, please, stay with the sweep. Make note of everything you think about that you need to do, you want to do, an idea related to what you’re doing or considering doing. Write those stray thoughts down or type them into where you’re keeping the notes but keep sweeping. Stay in a mind sweep state of mind.
4. Then, thirdly, the “what” is what your mind needs to be on during the sweeping. The how and the when is for later in the overall process.
As you’re going through this process, you may find yourself thinking, “When the heck am I supposed to be getting all this done?” I have some answers for that but first, we are focused on the what.
5. Throughout your mind sweep, whenever you are thinking of separate steps or tasks, or to-dos, then you’re fine to go ahead and write those down. But remember, then you go back to sweeping so that you can keep yourself from switching into planning mode, which is a different brain activity from sweeping. Just as I teach people to keep composing and editing separate when they’re writing, this is similar. Keep sweeping and planning separated.
6. Multitasking. I’m not even going to say anything to you about going and checking your email or fiddling around in other ways. All that needs to wait.
If you’re wondering what tools you might use for your mind sweep, read this article!