by Laura Hutchinson
My mind is like a sieve. Anything that goes into it, unless it’s pretty big, is quickly falling out again. I realized long ago that if I wanted to retain anything, I was going to have to put something in place to catch everything that fell through the cracks. Enter: mind sweeping.
I first came across the idea of mind sweeping in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” (which is basically the productivity bible). I’ve stuck with the system for 8 months now (almost a lifetime in the planning community) so I feel fully qualified to tell you all about it.
In a nutshell, you write down everything that’s in your head in one place. Simple as that.
Now I know what you’re thinking — ain’t nobody got time for that. But I can tell you right now that it takes me less time to scribble down a quick note about what I need to buy at the shops than it does to make the second trip because I forgot something. Or how little time I now have to spend looking for important information, brainstorming blog post ideas, scrambling around for the notes I took during a phone call (that’s right, Padraig from the bank, I have every detail related to the promise you made and promptly broke), or frantically scanning my brain for that thing I just know I’m forgetting.
My whole life is in one place (at least since January 1st 2016, when I started), and it’s amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come and all the things I’ve done.
Hopefully, by now, you’re intrigued, so let me share exactly how I do it and how it helps me stay sane (and smug).
Mind sweeping: Here’s how I do it
I use a cheap A4 notepad I’ve had lying around for years. It ain’t pretty, but it’s practical, and that’s all that matters. If you’re going to try mind sweeping too, go with whatever notebook takes your fancy but keep your personal preferences to the forefront of your mind. (This perfectionist, for example, couldn’t deal with a plain page because, without guidance, I can’t seem to write in a straight line to save my life.)
I date it and then keep it beside me all day. If anything occurs to me, I jot it down. It takes mere seconds, but the peace of mind alone is worth its weight in gold. I’m not going to forget it, it’s not going to play on my mind all day, I won’t be distracted by it when I’m in the middle of something else… It’ll just sit there patiently until I’m ready to retrieve it. (Good dog.)
When the day’s done, I just skip a line and write the date for the next day. I don’t write different things in different places or colour code or do anything fancy. I simply write. A new line for a new note. That’s it.
By now you’re probably wondering what happens to that big jumbled mess of random written thoughts. I mean, not everything will prove relevant or important, and who wants to look at a whole heap of notes without any rhyme or reason? It’s not exactly a great system if you have to scan through old shopping lists and inspirational quotes to get to “VERY IMPORTANT MEETING THAT I CANNOT MISS”.
Remember, this is just where I catch everything that leaked through the sieve. Now it’s time to separate the grit and fool’s gold from the real deal.
Mind sweeping: Here’s how I use it
In any given day, I’ll have a handful of notes. They’ll range from insightful musings such as “There’s a difference between getting things done and getting the right things done” to insipid mindlessness like “My first ‘snap’ on Snapchat. I still don’t get it.” (Actual notes.) It’s up to me to transfer them to their rightful place, or to trash them.
Tasks will be transferred to my to-do list; blog post ideas or anything related to my business will be transferred to a notebook I have specifically for that purpose; appointments, meetings, holidays, etc. will be added to the calendar; and random “journal” type thoughts will be written into a separate memory-keeping notebook.
That’s not to say that I won’t add something straight to the appropriate place if it’s convenient for me to do it at the time. For instance, I’ll often add a task straight to my to-do list because there’s no sense in doubling the amount of writing I’m doing, but it’s frequently the case that I’m in the middle of something else when the task pops into my head, so I’ll make a quick note in my mind sweep notebook and move on.
After that, the stuff that’s unimportant will simply be left where it is. When I’ve transferred everything I need to, I put a big ol’ line through them so I know they’re done and dusted.
Personally, I don’t go through it that often because, as a stay-at-home parent to a three year old, there aren’t too many things pressing on my time. Sometimes a few weeks will pass before I sit down and sift through it all.
But ask me where I was on February 15th and I’ll have the answer to hand. (Bonus perk: saving your skin if you’re ever accused of a crime you didn’t commit. Seriously, everyone in crime dramas remembers exactly where they were at an exact time when a crime was committed five years previously. Meanwhile I’m over here struggling to remember what I did yesterday.)
Mind sweeping is how I stay sane and stop forgetting things. Every thought, idea, appointment, task, memory, list, and random musing is jotted down, and then I go through it all to see what’s worth keeping.
So if, like me, you’ve a gazillion things racing through your brain at any given moment and you often find that something important slips by, give mind sweeping a go for a week and see if it doesn’t solve all your problems.