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The One Tool I Use to Declutter My Mind and Improve Focus

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of the big things that I want to do to make my dreams a reality.

Do you know what that feels like?

Your head is spinning. It can be hard to know what to do or where to start.

I’ve been playing around with this tool for awhile now and want to share it with you so you can beat the overwhelm, reduce stress and anxiety and move forward with clarity.

Let me introduce you to my version of The Mind Sweep.

What exactly is a Mind Sweep?

It’s an intentional methodical way for getting everything out of your head onto paper – or into a Google Doc, or wherever you’re capturing your thoughts in an organized meaningful way.

A Mind Sweep is different than a mind dump. A mind dump is also effective at getting things out, but it’s kind of like taking the mess of thoughts in your brain and creating a new mess on paper. And it can continue the train of overwhelm, because now you have to sort through all of the junk you just dumped out on paper.

Imagine pulling out the junk drawer in your kitchen and dumping it on the floor. That doesn’t really help much…the junk is just in a new spot.

On the flip side, a Mind Sweep is a lot more organized. We pictured dumping the junk drawer on the floor and making a mess. Now imagine yourself sweeping the floor in your kitchen.

When you sweep you’re not just randomly swishing the broom around to see what happens. No! When you sweep, you start at the edges and work in a certain direction. Every swish of the broom has a purpose, and you’ve got an end goal in mind.

That’s what happens when you do a mind sweep. You get everything out of your head in a deliberate and purposeful way so that you’re not dumping junk on a page. Your sweeping out the cobwebs so you can get more clarity and start fresh.

David Allen author of Getting Things Done, uses a Mind Sweep as part of his kind of complicated system GTD for capturing and processing information in your life and work so that you never miss a thing.

His version of a mind sweep is great, but I found it to be a bit much. I’ve played with it for a while, and this is what my mind sweep looks like now. I always tell my clients, their success lies in taking someone else system and tweaking it to make it your own.

HOW TO DO MY VERSION OF A MIND SWEEP

FIRST – Decide where you’ll capture your Mind Sweep thoughts. In a notebook? A journal? A Google Doc? Don’t overthink this. Pick something and start. I mind sweep the old-fashioned way with pen and paper.

SECOND – Decide when and how often you’ll capture your thoughts.

Will you do this in the morning or at night?

In the morning, the mind sweep can help improve focus by reducing distractions. At night, a mind sweep can help quiet racing thoughts and turn your brain “off” so you can sleep.

Doing a mind sweep takes muscle memory, just like any other habit. To start, promise yourself you’ll do a mindset sweep one time a week.

THIRD – Focus your sweep.

Organizing your thoughts into categories helps you manage them.

I sweep my thoughts into one of 3 categories; My To-Do’s, My Worries, and My Inner-Critic. Let’s talk about these from YOUR perspective.

CATEGORY #1: YOUR TO-DO THOUGHTS

This is the first category because I’ve found that these thoughts are at the forefront of my mind. When I do mind sweeps with clients, they also default to thinking about their to-do’s first.

To sweep your to-do thoughts, ask yourself; “What are the important things I need to accomplish today? Tomorrow? This week?

If it helps, think about your to-do’s in sub-categories like; work, home, kids, bills, parents, medical, vacations. You get the point.

Now that you got your To-Do Thoughts out of your head, it’s time to make a doable plan.

3 Steps to Make a Doable Plan

FIRST: Break out projects vs tasks.

Your list probably contains a mix of projects and tasks. A project is anything that has more than one step to complete.

Book a vacation is an example of a project. Choose 3 places to research is a task.

One of the most common reasons we end the day without crossing things off our to-do list is because our list is full of projects, instead of tasks. So we might spend hours working on a few tasks for one project, but not finish the whole project. So even though we made good progress – progress to be proud of – we still feel bad for not crossing it off the list.

When you identify something from your to-do mind sweep that’s a project, put the letter P next to it so you can come back to it later and map out the tasks within the project.

SECOND: Prioritize

With the tasks that are left, it’s time to prioritize. Remember, when everything is important, nothing is important.

Start with lightening the load. What on the list can you eliminate? Now that you see it on paper you may realize you’ve been hanging onto something that doesn’t need to be done at all.

The simplest way to prioritize is by using a ranking system. Go through the list and add numeric or word rankings like NOW, NEXT, and LATER. For more on prioritizing check out this blog post.

THIRD: Delegate and Schedule

Is there anything on the list that you can delegate? Maybe to a coworker, spouse, kids, a virtual assistant, an intern? What can you delegate and get off your plate?

For the remaining urgent things on the list, schedule them into your day and into the next week with time blocks. This helps you keep what you decide to tackle realistic. You can’t get a lot done if you’re in meetings all day. But you can get something done when you have an hour open between appointments. Schedule it and keep that appointment with yourself.

CATEGORY #2 YOUR WORRY THOUGHTS

Worrying causes a huge bottleneck in your productivity. When you worry, you’re all up in your head and not solving a darn thing.

Now sweep for your worry thoughts. Ask yourself;

  • What am I worrying about or dwelling on right now?
  • What am I overthinking?
  • What am I ruminating over?
  • What thoughts are keeping me up at night?
  • What thoughts are distracting me during the day?

Next, review all those thoughts an ask yourself; “What do I have control over? Is there anything I can do about this worry?”

If yes, move that action or task to Category #1: Your To-Do Thoughts. If no, choose to let it go. Worrying has never solved any problem. It simply keeps you spinning.

If you must worry, schedule a time to worry. Every time you catch yourself worrying, remind yourself that you have 30 minutes of worry time scheduled at say 7pm tonight. Maybe use that time to journal about your worries.

CATEGORY #3: YOUR INNER-CRITIC THOUGHTS

Oh, these thoughts keep you so stuck. They tell you that you aren’t enough. They tell you to play it safe. And the secret here, my friend, is that most of your thoughts are outright lies.

Now sweep for your inner-critic thoughts.

  1. What am I beating myself up for right now?
    It may be things like;
    I never do what I say I’m going to do.
    I’m always distracted.
    I never finish anything.

2. Finish this thought; I’ve never been good at _____________________. Or, it might come out of your head as “I’m a terrible writer, speaker, friend, parent, boss, leader.”

Review each thought and ask yourself if it is a fact or simply a thought.

Our thoughts are just that, thoughts. They are not facts. A fact is something that would hold up in a court of law. There is no emotion around facts. Thoughts are full of emotions. Also, notice words like, always, never, constantly, all the time, etc. Those are clues that the thought is a lie.

Now if it’s a lie, what else could you say to yourself? For example, “I keep putting off writing my resume because I’m a terrible writer.” That’s not a fact. So reframe the thought to:

“Now that I think about it, people have told me that I’m a great writer. I even got pretty good grades on my papers in school. I can tackle this resume.”

THAT’S IT! YOU’RE DONE WITH YOUR MIND SWEEP!

Enjoy the feeling that you have. You probably feel a little lighter now that your mind is de-cluttered and you have clarity like you’ve never had before.

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