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Sync Your Brain And Your System Using a Mind Dump

Sync Your Brain And Your System Using a Mind Dump

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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

    Photo: Tyla ’75

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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