Every so often, you have to conduct a brain dump.
I hear you asking: What is a brain dump?
A brain dump is a magical process that gets everything out of your head and onto paper. And, yes, I find that paper is where it has to happen. The computer is too distracting.
You know it’s time for a brain dump when you’re overwhelmed. Your head is about to burst, your stomach is fluttering, and your chest feels tight.
You’re feeling like you can’t get all of your tasks done in the time you have, and God bless the poor person who asks you for a favor right now. Oh, boy! Will they ever get an earful!
Another sign it’s time for a brain dump is that you are unfocused – you know that you have a lot to do, but can’t decide what is the best use of your time in this moment.
Brain dump to the rescue!
Here are the 6 steps I recommend for the process.
Step 1: Prepare For Your Brain Dump
I like to begin tasks with focused intention and name the task: Now, I am sitting down to get whatever is in my head onto this piece of paper. Sometimes I even say it out loud.
Naming it provides space. You’re not doing anything else at this time. You’re only working on this one thing.
If you find your attention is still wandering, get up and run in place for 1 minute, walk up and down a flight of stairs, or lift your free weights for 10 reps. Physical movement should help jolt you into a different mental state.
You understand, don’t you, that you’re in real trouble if you can’t focus long enough to do a brain dump that will help you focus?
Step 2: Lay Out Your Projects
Make headings for specific projects that are on your plate at this moment.
Each project has its own set of tasks that must be completed to ensure a success. With this step, you are identifying projects, not individual tasks.
Leave plenty of space below the headings.
Your projects might include:
- Planning an upcoming exhibition
- Creating content for your teaching
- Promoting a class or workshop you are teaching
- Working with a private client
- Completing commission for a collector
- Writing a grant or residency proposal
- Gaining gallery representation
- Writing a book
Step 3: Identify Individual Tasks
Under each heading, make a list of the individual tasks that must be accomplished in order to complete that project.
Each task must be a single step. You will be blocked if you have to complete multiple steps for something you’ve identified as a task.
For example, if your project is promoting an upcoming exhibition, your tasks might be:
- Get venue clearance on press release.
- Post details to website.
- Post weekly about the exhibition to Facebook.
- Contact designer about postcard.
- Create special email announcement.
You don’t have to get it perfect. You just have to document everything that is in your head right now.
Step 4: Prioritize Your Tasks
What tasks must be done first? Either it has to be completed before you can move on to other tasks or the deadline is closest.
I label mine with a 1, 2, or 3 (and sometimes add a decimal point if I need to squeeze something in between two digits).
Step 5: Add Tasks to Your To-Do List
You can use your brain dump paper as a to-do list only briefly. It’s too nutty to use it for more than a couple of days.
Add the tasks you hope to accomplish today to your working paper list (I keep mine next to me at all times). If something needs to to be taken care of in the future, add it to your electronic task list.
If the task needs to be assigned to someone else, make note of that on your list and then notify that person.
Step 6: Review
In order for a brain dump to work with your tasks, you have to look at it and keep it active.
If you find yourself avoiding a task, ask yourself:
Is this really a single task? Or do I need to break it down further?
Does it really need to happen?
What is the best thing that could happen if I do this?
What are the ramifications of not doing it?
I call this the “liberating magic of the brain dump” because when you’re done, you should feel much better about what you need to accomplish. Liberating! You should be able to see what is most important right now, what can wait until later, and where you need to enlist help. Magic!
What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? How do you prioritize your projects and tasks?