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One of the keys to any productivity system is to actually put things into the system. Who knew?

Obvious though it may seem, many of us have trouble taking the time to enter our thoughts into our task-manager, to-do list, or organizational system.

This can happen for any number of reasons – no paper nearby, no easy way to record your ideas – but our productivity can be hurt by not inputting everything into our system so we can deal with it properly.

What should live on paper lives in our brain, and then proceeds to be forgotten and left alone. That’s a surefire road to getting yourself in trouble- or at least forgetting leaky faucets.

There’s a simple, quick solution to this problem, though – it’s called a mind dump.

A mind dump is simply a way for you to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Our brains aren’t made to remember things forever, but paper is; with an empty brain, we’re able to either focus on new things or deal with the task at hand, instead of constantly dwelling on past things taking up valuable bandwidth.

Executing a mind dump is simple: take out a pen and a paper, or fire up a new document on your computer. Then, write down everything that comes to your mind. There is no step three.

Anything and everything is fair game: what you have to do, what you’re thinking about, hopes, dreams, goals, and whatever else comes into your mind. Set a time limit – say, 20 minutes – and everything that enters your brain immediately must exit your brain and go onto your paper.

Once you’re done, you can begin to take action on the items you’ve written. On what do you need to take action? What do you need to deal with, follow up about, or file somewhere?

Things that don’t need to be further dealt with? Just get rid of them. Make sure you don’t need to think about them ever again, and be done with them.

There’s no set way for doing the best mind dump possible. The point is to reset your brain, update your productivity system, and put onto paper all the things that have been taking up the valuable (and limited) space in your brain.

Many people use “triggers” to make their mind dumps easier – a set of key words or phrases that set your mind on a particular aspect of your life, in order to let you focus on items related to it. 43 Folders has a long list of these triggers, everything from “Phone calls,” to “Furniture”, to “Weddings.”

Some people, GTD followers in particular, do a mind dump before their Weekly Review, as part of figuring out what the week ahead has in store. Others, like myself, do it once a week or so – whenever I have 20 minutes to spare. I recommend doing it at least once a week – it has a tendency to get long and unweildly otherwise.

A mind dump can also be done anywhere – another great thing about it. Open up a note on a cell phone, or write on the back of a newspaper; wherever you are, if you’ve got a free moment, clear your head.

You’ll be amazed how many things come out of your brain and into your organizational system, when you devote time and space to emptying it.

How and when do you get things out of your head and into your system?

Photo: Tyla ’75

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