022: Essential Habits - The Mindsweep



We’re starting a series on the essential habits to build for any productivity system. This week we’re looking at the mindsweep – a tactic to clear your brain so you can focus on what’s important.


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00:00 Hello and welcome to Process. My name is Justin DiRose, community leader at the Productivity Guild. Today we’re starting a series on the essential habits for productivity and on this episode we’re talking about the mindsweep. As I mentioned over the next few episodes, we’re going to go in depth on some of the essential habits to build for anyone using a productivity system. No matter what that system is, you can be using paper, you can be using a complex GTD system. You can be using OmniFocus, Todoist, you can be using autofocus. Whatever it is, these are the habits that are essential for you to build regardless of the system that you’re using and whether you’re a remote worker or whether you’re working from home or whether you’re working in a corporate office environment, it doesn’t matter. These habits help you maintain the level of productivity and focus on the things that you want to be intentional on over the course of the longterm.

00:54 The mindsweep was a habit that I was introduced to first from the Getting Things Done book by David Allen. A mindsweep is essentially a process where you get out anything that’s on your mind onto paper or somewhere within your system. It can be your inbox inside of OmniFocus. It can be a note inside of Bear, whatever it is, it gets out of your head and somewhere external to you. The whole idea is to write down the things that your brain is trying to hold on to to free up your attentional space. Chris Bailey talks about in the book Hyperfocus that our brains only have a limited amount of attention space. We can essentially hold about six things in our mind at a time that we can actually pay attention to. So when we have stuff that builds up: things that we’re worried about, projects that need to get done and essential task that has to get completed today or tomorrow, this stuff gets chunked up in our brain and it prevents us from doing what we do best, which is processing and connecting information.

01:56 And so the mindsweep is designed to be something that gets your brain empty of this clutter to be able to focus on processing and connecting the information that it needs to. I also find that the mind sweep is an essential tactic to utilize when feeling overwhelmed. We’ll talk about that in a little bit.

02:14 So we’ve defined what a mindsweep is. How do you do it? Well, a mindsweep is easy. The first thing, and probably one of the most important is to get yourself away somewhere quiet or where you can think freely without interruption. Mindsweeps can take 20 minutes, can take an hour, just depending on how long you’ve gone between doing them and how many things you have going on in your life at a given time or in a given season. But get somewhere you can focus on this without interruption. Then you just basically sit down and either at your task management software of choice or a piece of paper, a note inside of your note taking application, just start writing down anything that comes to mind.

02:56 And the best advice here is not to have your edit brain on. So instead of trying to categorize a task or figure out the scope of a project while you’re doing this process, just let it all come out. If you’re getting pieces of a project as you’re dumping it out onto paper, write it down, but don’t try to force yourself into doing that. The whole point here is to try to relieve stress on your brain and on your emotions basically so that you can begin to focus and actually process on these things and move forward on them instead of getting stuck. From here just bullet point everything out. Like I said, don’t edit right away. That comes later.

03:31 One thing that I originally got caught up on when I first started with the mindsweep was the fact that I felt like it needed to all be tasks and projects. When coming from a pretty strong Getting Things Done perspective it can be easy to think that because that’s where your mind tends to go when you think of that framework is, okay, I’ve got all these tasks and projects that I need to do. The truth is that a mindsweep doesn’t focus just on tasks and projects. In fact, the mindsweep is the starting point. It’s everything that’s going on inside of you so that you can boil it down to what the legitimate tasks and projects that you have to do or that you want to do are. And then from there you can start to act forward. So when you mindsweep, it’s not just I’m going to get all the tasks out of my mind or all these big projects that I have on my plate. But it’s also the emotions, the ideas, the dreams, the worries, that type of stuff that needs to come out too because it’s not just stuff to do that gums us up inside.

04:30 It’s also these things. And so when we get it out, we can go back and we can process through it and realize that there may be things that we’re worrying about that are easy for us to handle or there may be things that are stressful in our lives so we can’t do anything about, but we just need to be aware of there because when we’re aware of things that are going on inside of us, it’s a lot easier for us to manage ourselves. But when we live unaware of these things, they tend to control us or influence our actions, our thoughts, our choices throughout the day. And so the mindsweep, I think is a perfect place, not just to get your tasks and projects out. It’s also process through anything that’s on your mind, anything that’s weighing on you, anything that’s going on in your life, whether it’s a task or project or not.

05:13 So to do this, you might just need to sit down for 15 minutes. You might need a sit down for an hour, and if nothing’s coming when you sit down, just give your brain some space. One thing you can do is just relax, let your brain flow and just start writing down anything that comes to mind. Or frankly, you can just start writing something. The ultimate part of the mindsweep that is important is don’t overcomplicate it. It’s really just getting what’s on your mind out. And then the clarification of things comes after you’re done. When you can try to go back through and identify what the things are that you need to do that you want to do or that you don’t even need to worry about.

05:46 So how do you build this as a habit? Well, I find that the mindsweep is an easy thing to tack onto other routines. The two main ones that I use, and it can be different for everybody, but the ones that I use it on are my weekly review because that makes a lot of sense. You’re going through all of your system and trying to get back to a state where everything’s up to date and clear. So the minesweep fits directly into that. And then my shutdown routine at the end of the day. When you’re working for eight, 10 hours in a day, it’s pretty easy for stuff to start to accumulate that you might not have captured throughout the day or you might not have dealt with. And so you want to make sure that you get that out so that you can think freely about the things that you need to think of coming up next. The other thing that I do to try to build this as a habit, and it’s not so much in a routine sort of sense, but it’s when I start to notice myself feel overwhelmed.

06:36 When I feel overwhelmed, the best thing that I can do is go sit with a notebook, sit with a legal pad somewhere quiet and just start writing everything down that I need to do. Honestly, I found that I don’t even need to go back and process these things. It’s just the fact of getting them out of my head and onto a piece of paper that helps me feel less stressed because my brain has been trying to chew on more things than it really should at a given time and can’t keep track of all of them. And so I just try to take stock of how I’m feeling and if I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I know I need to go sit down with a piece of paper somewhere and just get everything out of my head.

07:14 The mind sweep is an easy building block to add into your repertoire of habits for productivity. It’s one that I have found indispensable in helping me manage stress and helping me get through really busy seasons of my life. I will tell you that it’s not a magic bullet though. It’s a helpful habit and you may have more mileage out of it than I do or you might get less mileage out of it. It’s ultimately just up to the person, but this is a habit that I have found essential in my productivity workflow and in my systems that stuck with me for years and there’s been lots of habits that haven’t stuck because they might just be pertinent for a season or they just didn’t make sense for me. Ultimately, I encourage you, if you haven’t incorporated mindsweeping into your routine in some regard, I encourage you to experiment with it because it is a great way just to start processing through your life and to free up the attentional space that you have so that you can actually focus on the things that matter to you.

08:16 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode or if you want to connect with others who are in the process of becoming better on their productivity journey, head on over to the Productivity Guild at productivityguild.com. Or if you want to support this podcast and get access to video modules, productivity courses, and more, consider signing up for a Pro membership at the Productivity Guild for just $10 a month. Get a free month trial using code PROCESS19 when signing up at productivityguild.com/courses. Lastly, if you liked this show, rate us on iTunes or recommended on Overcast. My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.