Mind Sweeping: How It Helps Me Remember Everything

by Laura Hutchinson

September 2016

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.)

Mind Sweeping 1

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 2

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.

Mind Sweeping 3

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.

And hey, once you’ve done that and you’re ready to take on the world, pop on over to HowToGYST to learn the best and quickest way to achieve all your goalsThere’ll be no stopping you!

Laura Hutchinson is a wife, mother, skeptic, and cynic. She best describes herself and her wonderful website here. You can find Laura online at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.

21 thoughts on “Mind Sweeping: How It Helps Me Remember Everything

  • September 1, 2016 at 2:35 PM
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    I love how practical and easily explained Laura makes Mind Sweeping sound… this could be the missing link for me !!

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    • September 1, 2016 at 2:51 PM
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      Yes, Laura is roughly eight kinds of amazing! 🙂 She never fails to explain things in a way that I can easily understand and then implement.

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  • September 1, 2016 at 5:10 PM
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    *orders extra large hat for swelled head*

    Thank you both so much! 😀 90% of my writing & editing process is just me thinking, “Does this even make any sense?!” Thanks for tuning into my wavelength. 😉

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  • September 2, 2016 at 8:05 AM
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    Great article! such a simple idea.

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  • September 4, 2016 at 8:18 AM
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    I love this idea! My planner pretty much lives in the kitchen while my tush resides in the living room when I’m home. There’s enough of a distance and enough distractions that I totally forget what I was going to write down!

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    • September 5, 2016 at 1:01 PM
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      Been there! Mine stays beside me most of the time now. If on the off-chance I don’t have it with me, I jot the note down on my phone and then transfer it ASAP. =)

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  • September 4, 2016 at 10:31 AM
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    Not only is this a great idea, it was funny to read. I love the “real-ness.” Simple, effective, no special colored markers needed, no washi tape. A pen and a notebook. Brilliant.

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    • September 5, 2016 at 1:03 PM
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      Thank you so much, Lynne! 😀 If it’s anything complicated, I know I won’t stick to it, so it’s all about the basics for me.

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  • September 5, 2016 at 7:43 AM
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    Ooh, I love this idea! I had a minor panic a couple of weeks ago because I’d had an excellent idea for the novel I’m working on and I completely forgot it. I knew that I *had* had the idea, but couldn’t for the life of me recall *what* the idea was (fortunately, I remembered it again. It really was an excellent idea 😛 ).

    I currently use a bullet journal for my to-dos and storing various other information, and I can see mind sweeping merging quite seamlessly with bullet journalling (which has a similar concept already in the daily rapid log, but that one never quite worked for me because there’s no real organisation of notes after the fact; you just record things as tasks, events or notes, and then schedule the tasks later as needed).

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    • September 8, 2016 at 6:14 AM
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      Hi Nicola! Was excited to see on Instagram and Twitter that you’ve started mind sweeping. 😀 Congrats on remembering the idea for your novel, but now you’ll never have to be in that situation again. 😉 Good luck!

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  • September 6, 2016 at 10:55 AM
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    Mind sweep or brain dump, has been a HUGE help to me. I have less anxiety over what I have to do and what I want to do. I also seem to remember more if I write it down. Great post. Thanks Laura!!

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    • September 8, 2016 at 6:16 AM
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      Thank YOU Amanda. I do brain dumps too. 😀 I find they’re a great way for “clearing the decks” if I just feel I’ve got a lot going on.

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  • September 14, 2016 at 11:34 AM
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    I’ve been doing mind sweeps/brain dumps for years now and they have changed over time to suit my lifestyle. At the minute mine resides in a word document and is currently touching on 11 pages of A4 which I need to organise, categorise and start actioning.
    That said I absolutely love how you record things and will definitely be giving it a try in the very near future x

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  • September 15, 2016 at 3:29 PM
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    I tried mind sweeping for a while and it didn’t suit me unfortunately. The only way I remember things is by connecting them to other information I already have. So when all the information was no longer in my mind but on paper, I felt empty, exhausted and depressed. It didn’t focus me at all because I couldn’t think. So gave it up fairly quickly. Everyone is different, equal but different. I’m glad it works for you though. So congrats Laura on a nicely written piece. And congrats Carie at starting such a nice magazine. I hope to write a piece for it some day…

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    • September 30, 2016 at 6:04 AM
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      Hi Roos. Not every system will work for every person. The important thing is that you tried it. =) Have you found a system that does work for you?

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  • September 21, 2016 at 7:40 PM
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    Great article Laura! I was reading it thinking I really like your style of writing so I was going to start following you, then realized you are the HowtoGYST gal-sorry new follower and didn’t catch your name-but I know it now 😀

    Reply
  • September 27, 2016 at 5:39 AM
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    Brilliant article! I can’t wait to implement this in my everyday planning!

    Reply

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