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The Marvelous Mind Dump

Let’s talk about your Mental Space. Your brain. That clever thing in your head that is responsible for your thinking life.

The personal computer in your head

It works kinda like a computer, right? You’ve got pieces of information tucked away in various nooks and crannies that get called up on command.

Remember on the old PCs how your system would start getting all slaggy and slow?

You’d run the command to defrag your hard drive and all the stray fragments of data would get neatly swept up and then discarded or put in their proper place. (Do people still do this?) And your PC would run faster–for a while anyways.

That pesky floating debris

Now think of the thoughts in your head which appear in something of a running monologue: “I should change my profile pic on website–something sassy and intelligent, gotta remember to pick up toothpaste on the way home, mmm this is a fantastic cappucino–I gotta go to Italy, think I’ll add a link to my YouTube tutorials in the next newsletter, Ugh!! He did it again! I can’t stand it when he finishes the ice cream and doesn’t tell me!!, I wonder when my favorite bra brand will go on sale, gotta change my Facebook password,” and so on.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the order of it. It all floats around in a big cloud and hopefully, you remember what you need when you need it. No biggie if you forget something–it’s usually not that big of a deal.

Until it IS a big deal.

You forget to respond to a potential client, miss your partner’s birthday, or lay awake at night with thoughts pelting you from all directions.

Here’s the thing: your mind isn’t actually a computer.

When you throw in emotions, desires, issues, problems, challenges, time constraints, expectations, rush hour, and an empty carton of ice cream, it gets messy.

And then there’s the seemingly uncontrollable anxiety which thrives on scattered attention–all those floating thoughts in your head are candy for the anxious mind.

The value you bring to the world

Shifting gears a bit, let’s look at your brain in action.

The value you bring to your work comes through how you think.

The creativity you bring to a challenge.
The decisions you make.
How and with whom you spend your time.
What you focus on and what you ignore.

We’re talking about executive functioning, creativity, and wisdom.

ALL of which benefit from spaciousness.
ALL of which suffer from mental chaos.
(As do peace of mind, patience, personal connections, and
that sweet feeling of being on purpose.)

Summing it up: Mental floaters are wicked little buggers who couldn’t care less about your success.

And now, presenting…

the Marvelous Mind Dump–ta da!

The resulting benefits of doing a Mind Dump are many. It

  • frees your mind for creativity.
  • allows you to be more present.
  • makes it easier to stay focused on priorities.
  • promotes a feeling of spaciousness.
  • clears your mind of clutter.
  • relieves you of trying to keep track of everything.
  • expands the space to hear your intuition.
  • widens your view, thus you make wiser decisions.

The process of the Mind Dump is to identify all the info being stored internally (in your head) and record it externally (in your systems).

Getting this stuff out of your head provides immense relief.

Getting this stuff into a System is downright brilliant.

(by making your info infinitely easier to manage.)

This is no small matter. In fact, in case you’re new to the Natural Professional, one of our core mantras here at NP HQ is: Let your systems do the work.

Which is worth repeating about 1,500 times, five of which are here:

Let your systems do the work.
Let your systems do the work.
Let your systems do the work.
Let your systems do the work.
Let your systems do the work.

Hmmm, it’s occurring to me that there’s a possibility that you aren’t familiar with what this Mind Dump thing is! If so, let’s correct that straight away.

It’s really quite simple.

You sit down with a pen and a few (or several) sheets of paper and then write down every thought you can find in your head. That’s it!

Piece of cake.

[sidenote: You’d think that a “thought” doesn’t have weight… but once you nail each thought with your awareness and commit it to the page in front of you, you’re rewarded with a little bit of lightness–like a pebble that you no longer have the burden of carrying around.

Just as one pebble feels almost weightless, a whole sack of them gets heavy. The opposite sensation occurs as you relieve your mind from carrying around the thoughts. Thought by thought your mind gets lighter. It’s really quite a fascinating phenomenon! /end sidenote]

Note: Your very first mind dump may feel like a triple marathon.

Best times to do a Mind Dump

  1. Now.
  2. Once you’ve committed to using a ToDo Manager to store your info, this stuff in your head is what populates the system.
  3. As a fierce weapon against anxiety. Your head freaks out when it thinks it might forget something important and attempts to jump from thought to thought in an attempt to keep track of it all, but which really only results in short circuiting your brain and freaking your out.
  4. On a weekly basis as ongoing maintenance to keep your system spic, span and trusted. (We don’t do stale around here.)

Materials needed

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Drinking water to stay hydrated and keep your neurons firing properly
  • A tasty treat to keep you nourished

Do the deed

  1. Gather your materials.
  2. Get your butt to a chair and table where you won’t be disturbed.
  3. Title the top of your first page: “Mind Dump, date ___”.
  4. Begin.

[sidenote: Since this stuff is going the way of digital down the road, you might ask:

“Why not just do this on the computer?”

Technically, you could. Some people do.

Here’s why I advocate for handwritten which is based on my own empirical evidence. Consider it and then decide for yourself:

  1. I feel more expressive and less constrained when hand-writing.
  2. I feel more relaxed at a table with pen, paper and a cup of coffee than with my laptop. (It’s close to one of my favorite things, actually.)
  3. When I’m feeling some anxiety, I prefer handwriting. The action of putting pen to paper has a focusing and calming effect on my brain.
  4. I do a lot of journaling and have conversations with my unconscious self through hand writing, thus I feel like I access different parts of my brain.
  5. That last one often results in significant realizations unexpectedly popping on to the page. Numerous time I’ve found myself looking at starred and circled phrases thinking, Hunh, I didn’t realize that was such a big deal. No wonder it’s been on my mind so much. I rarely do this when typing.

There you have it. The Mind Dump is something of a purifying activity and I want to access as many parts of my brain as possible. This is why I prefer handwriting over digital for the initial Big Dump.

I’m more open to channeling the mind dump directly into the digital ToDo Manager when in weekly maintenance mode. Basically, once the majority of the stuff is (and has been) out of your head, the process is more of a surface sweep rather than a deep excavation.
/ end sidenote]

Another debatable point:

To pre-categorize or not?

I’ve seen some people recommend designating categories for your Mind Dump, for ex. to title one page: “Projects”, another “ToDos”, and another “Goals”.

I disagree with this.

Why? Because a lot of what comes out will be vague and a lot won’t fall into the neat categories of ToDos, Projects or Goals. This will leave you wondering, “Which list should this go on?” or worse, you don’t write it down because you don’t see a place for it.

Your goal with the Mind Dump is to open the floodgates and let it all flow out. The goal is to not think.

On-the-spot assessing of importance or categorizing (aka thinking) not only slows the flow, it’s a separate step.

Besides, we have rules around here for what can end up on a ToDo list [check out: Super-charging Your SNAs].

Again, taking the time to apply these rules to something going on the ToDo list

  1. would take a much bigger chunk of time,
  2. is a different mental process–which would throttle the flow of your Mind Dump to snail speed, and
  3. jumping between different mental processes is needlessly tiring. (Take note of this Jedi Mind tip!)

You don’t know what’s going to come out–this is one of the aspects that makes this exercise so fascinating. What’s been hanging out in the nooks and crannies of your mind??? (Scary, eh?? Fear not! I know you can handle it!)

Thus my suggestion of one list titled:
“Mind Dump, date _____”

Do the deed, take II

You’re sitting with paper and pen in front of you. Your paper is titled: Mind Dump, date____.

Now, write everything down in list format.
I mean, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. No matter how silly it sounds. No matter if it isn’t a “ToDo” or a “Project”. No matter if you don’t think you’ll ever take action on it. All of it. Let your mind go. Grammar be hanged.

They may be things you’ve committed to doing, projects in process, projects dropped that need to be picked up again, things you feel guilty about, something you’ve been wanting to tell your next door neighbor for five years, a cake recipe you’ve been wanting to get from your mom, that client email you still haven’t answered, the holiday card idea, the outstanding issue with your partner that hasn’t been resolved yet, Jane’s birthday last month that you didn’t send a card for, a trip to India, anger toward your Ex-., a vision of yourself bicycling in Italy,

I mean ANY and EVERY thing.

Remember: This is NOT the time to be analyzing. I’m super serious about this point. Your job right now is to just write EV-ER-Y-Thing down. That’s all.

You are literally chasing down every thought that’s been loitering in your head. If you can feel it, if you can perceive that a sentiment is there, find the thought associated with it.

Your mind’s job is to seek and identify thoughts.

Seek and identify.
Seek and identify.
What? Was that a judgement of what you just wrote down? Outta here!
Seek and identify. That’s it.
Seek and identify.

Keep tabs on your emotions

This activity can churn up all kinds of emotion–some to let flow, some to check.

Sometimes the weighty thoughts are representative of an unresolved situation. Dislodging these from their hiding spot can loosen the emotions that go along with them.

When this happens, sit for a few moments to let the emotion wash through you–without attaching to it. Now isn’t the time to “deal” with them.

Acknowledge Yes, Process No.

And then continue.

If, on the other hand, the emotion is triggered by negative self-talk, for ex. “I’m never going to be able to deal with all of this!”, halt that right away. Slough it off—you’re a Creative! Of course you’ve got a gazillion and a half things going on. That’s what makes you Awesomely You.

[sidenote: What we’re flirting with in this acknowledgement of emotions is that simplifying and getting organized is actually a super personal journey into You. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner this can be Fun. Maybe hard and scary at times, but in its own life-is-an-adventure-kinda-way–FUN!
/ end sidenote]

Besides, just because it wasn’t on paper doesn’t mean it didn’t already exist. Having it out of your head takes up less of your energy, Ha! So there! Keep going. Seek and identify.

Getting this stuff out into the light of day is AMAZING. It’s like pulling out dirty laundry, demons, et al and yelling: “You’ve got nothing on me!”

See your mind in front of you

Once you feel complete with the exercise, and this may take 30 minutes, it may take three hours, Check It Outthat’s your mind on paper! Fascinating!

Put your pen down.

Take a moment to acknowledge what you’ve just done.

How do you feel? (not where is your head racing to fill the void but, how do you FEEL?)

Is it comfortable? Uncomfortable?

Do you feel like something you are intimately familiar with is missing? If so, can this be OK?

How deeply are you breathing?

Where are you holding tension? Breath into it to release it.

If your mind is jumping into action, notice what story it’s telling.

OK, here’s the imagery in my mind for this right now:

Movie: Matrix (the first one — as if there are any others).

Scene: near the end, right before he destroys the Agent Smith, when Neo realizes that his relationship to the world is different than he thought it was. The “rules” do not apply to him. He doesn’t think or believe or try to bend the rules–he transcends them.

Your repetitive, cyclical thoughts contain beliefs about the “rules”. Let them go… You are freeing your mind…

Technically, that’s it.

You’re done with the Mind Dump.

Yay! Congratulations!

Uhhhhh, not so fast! So what to do with all this stuff you now have written down?


How you categorize depends on how you manage your ToDos and lists–and everyone does this differently.

Two trains of thought here:

1. Digital-based

If you’re continuing on the Natural Professional journey, then now is the time to go to (or set up) your digital ToDo Manager.

2. Paper-based

If you’re going to stay paper-based, then grab the notebook that you’ll work out of.

Paper-based peeps, dedicate one page per category.

Digital peeps, enter Projects in your Project List, enter everything else as individual Action items.

NOTE: I’m not saying you should have all of the following categories. What I’m saying is that the contents of your head represent the state of your life–it’s not all going to fit into neat little ToDo items and projects. Consider the examples below as permission to make it work for you.

There are the “obvious” categories like:

To Do

You might further specify:

  • Emails to write
  • Calls to make
  • Things to get
  • Errands

Projects — implying current.

You might further specify one page per project:

  • Areas of the house to purge and beautify
  • Website changes to make
  • Client X – outstanding

Then there are:
Conversations to have — title list by person/role

  • Bookkeeper
  • Kid’s teacher
  • Financial planner
  • Landscape Architect
  • Web guy

Pending — things you’re waiting to get or hear back from others (alternatively, these might go in the “Conversations” above)

Someday (this is a deceptively simple and very powerful list for ToDos and Projects you might (or will!) do someday, but that you aren’t willing to commit to initiating now)

Ideas — specify, for ex.

  • Did you write down a bunch of travel ideas? Then create a list called “Travel Ideas”. If there’s just one, for ex. Italy, put it in Someday (or Current projects if you want to take action Now!)
  • “Articles to Write”
  • “Kids Activities” (stuff to do or place to go with the kidlings)
  • Areas of the house you want to change: “House Projects”
  • “Gift Ideas” for people
  • “Guest List Ideas” for partner’s surprise birthday party
  • “Books” to check out or read
  • “Movies” you’ve wanted to watch
  • Relationships to keep up with (people to write, call, or visit)

Random data

  • Birthdays
  • Phone numbers
  • Impending important dates or appointments

Then there are the soft and squishy categories. Keep in mind that just because you write it down doesn’t mean you have to deal with it now.

  • “Unanswered Questions” (I LOVE this one. I get so much relief when I identify an issue that I’ve been pondering but am not ready to come up with an answer to yet.)
  • People that you’re pissed at? Make a list of “Relationships to Heal”
  • Open loop situations that you feel guilty/bad/unresolved about: “Situations to Resolve”

Now that’s you’ve got your stuff all categorized, what do you do with it? It represents hours and hours of work! Ack! — Hey, wait a minute! No freaking out! After all we’ve been through together here?!?

Geez, go treat yourself to a bouquet of fresh flowers, a walk through a beautiful garden, or a restorative yoga class.

The important thing to realize here is that your info is safe and sound and not-to-be-forgotten in your system. This is huge. Really! Let out a Big Sigh O’ Relief.

You are freeing your mind, Neo…

Next steps

  1. Get all this into your ToDo Manager. For help with this, check out module: Trusting Your ToDo Manager
  2. Manage your work according to your priorities and in the context of your other current commitments. For help with this, check out module: RAP (Review and Planning) Session.

We gotcha covered. It’s all good. It’s all manageable.

And this doth hereby conclude a truly bodacious, mind-bogglingly, most-excellent activity.


P.S. Keep a notepad nearby from here on out to capture the stragglers—they’ll pop up at the oddest times and WOW will they stand out like a sore thumb. You’ll wonder what nook they could’ve possibly been hiding in.

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