There I was, a stressed out and anxious mom trying to do it all. At the time I was feeling overwhelmed with my endless to-do list that was bouncing around inside my head, on the brink of bursting out.More and more was being added to my plate everyday. I couldn’t keep up and I started forgetting important things, which made me feel like I was failing at life.
I wasn’t the mother or wife that I wanted to be and it wrecked my self-esteem. Then, as if by chance, something amazing happened…
I stumbled on a blog post that explained how our brains are not designed to hold all these things. We ask them to do too much these days and the science backs it up.
Instantly it became crystal clear to me that I needed get everything out of my brain so I could organize and prioritize my list, because I saw how easy it would be to organize everything if it was written down.
My plan was to start writing everything in my head down on a piece of paper, which turned into a bunch of notebooks, and later a planner designed for busy moms.
I started creating a plan for every day, focusing on the important tasks that needed to be done now. But I didn’t stop there.I followed the plan every day, making sure to check every task off. I wouldn’t watch TV or reward myself until my tasks were done.
After that, I learned to manage my time better to get the plan done faster so I could relish in those rewards. I learned how to use what I already had to become a productivity machine!Building on that success,
I knew I had to share this amazing technique with you. With a brain dump I can now organize my endless to-do list so I know what to focus on.
And that’s why I’m so excited to share this with you so you can get these types of results too!
Is it any wonder parents today feel more overwhelmed than ever? It takes a village as we’ve been told, but most of us don’t have that village right there ready to help.
And more women than ever are working outside of their home and contributing to their household income.
That overwhelmed feeling comes from feeling like you have to do it all, and then some. Social media tells us our friends are living in immaculate houses with perfectly dressed children, all wearing a smile on a beautifully made up face. Not a hair is out of place and we just sit there and say “Why can’t I have that?”
Spoiler alert! They don’t have that either. I’ve asked a lot of my peers if they have ever felt overwhelmed and under-prepared. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t answer yes.
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
How can we fix it?
So what gives? How do you make that feeling go away? How do you organize your life and your brain so that you can get more done?
As mothers, we tend to keep everything in our heads. We write down the important stuff on a calendar for sure (Sophie has a doctor’s appointment on the 9th, Liam has a dental cleaning on the 20th, etc.) but there’s so much more to our lives than that.
I went through a period where I forgot to do things. Important things. One month I forgot to pay the mortgage. Another time I forgot to buy a birthday present for a friend.
I was losing track of tasks, and it wasn’t good.
It’s so easy for things to fall through the cracks when everything is all jumbled up in your head. And honestly, your brain isn’t meant to hold all the things.
If it could, we wouldn’t feel as overwhelmed as we do.
I realized that something had to change in my life. And fast! I was able to form a plan and work through the overwhelm.
There are times when I still get overwhelmed every now and then, but I know how to get out of it. I know how to work through it and get back on track easily.
The first step is to get all that stuff that bouncing around in your brain out. It doesn’t have to look nice and pretty. Also, it doesn’t have to come out organized. It just needs to come out of your head.
We’re going to start with a brain dump exercise to get your started on your path to peace. If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a YouTube brain dump example:
What is a Brain Dump?
A brain dump exercise is when you sit down and dump all those thoughts and tasks that are rattling around in your brain onto a piece of paper or in a brain dump app. I use a paper planner personally with pen and paper. It’s a powerful tool to help you get organized.
It doesn’t matter what mode you use, paper or virtual, as long as it works for you. I’m a big fan of using speech to text on my phone because I find it’s easier for me to just let it roll.
You’re going to want to block out a decent amount of time for this (if it’s your first time, at least a half hour). There’s nothing worse than adding to your stress when you feel like you have to do a large task in an insufficient amount of time.
If you’re going to use a notebook of some sort, start with a blank sheet of paper. If you’re on a computer or phone, start fresh. Start with everything that is on the front of your brain.
You write a list of all the things you have to do, what’s bothering you, and whatever else you need to unburden yourself of.
This is just for you. Nobody else is going to see it. So add whatever you need to for yourself.
The first time I did this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Dump everything in my head? How would that help?
However, once I started to get going, I realized just how much I was holding inside and trying to focus on. Now I make it a point to do this at least once a week (sometimes twice) so it doesn’t get that bad again.
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If you’re a paper planner like I am (yay for analog tools), here are my recommendations for a dump:
If you’re more of a computer person, there are a LOT of apps and programs out there that are great for doing these dumps. Here are a few of my favorites:
If you’re not sure where to start, try digital first. The tools I listed are free to use so it’s low cost to give it a shot. If you don’t like it, then move to a paper solution.
Things that you’re going to dump:
- Work Projects
- Family Projects
- Educational Projects
- Financial Projects
- Big Tasks
- Small Tasks
- Important dates
Some questions to ask
I find it helpful to ask some questions of myself when I’m starting this process. Once I get going, I find that I don’t need as much “help” but sometimes starting is the hardest part.
- What do you have to do?
- What are you thinking about doing?
- What do you not want to do?
- What has been distracting you?
- What are you dreading?
- What’s making you feel guilty?
- What are you excited for?
- What are your top goals for your life?
There are also some categories that I use. This technique can work well when you’re still feeling like you’re missing a lot from your memory dump lists.
They are suggestions to help you get your flow going, so if you don’t have anything to write or if a category doesn’t apply to you, don’t worry about it and move on.
- What are your daily tasks?
- What are your weekly tasks?
- What projects are you working on?
- What work do you need to do for those projects?
- What projects are coming up?
- What maintenance do you need to do?
- What’s on your back burner?
- Go through each room and write down what needs doing
- What long-term projects do you want to do?
- What chores do you do every day?
- What chores do you do every week?
- What chores do you do every month?
- What are the yearly chores that you do?
- What bothers you about your home?
- What excites you about your home?
- What do you keep track of for your children?
- When are your appointments scheduled for?
- What activities do you need to plan?
- What is needed for homework/school?
- How are your relationships doing?
- Meal planning for the week
- Are there any changes you would like to see?
- Are there any new challenges you might want to talk over with your family? New goals?
- What do you have planned with your friends?
- Who haven’t you spoken to in a while?
- Who do you need to call?
- What types of activities do you do outside of your home?
- What errands do you run regularly?
- What errands do you run sporadically?
- What do you want to cut back on?
- What do you do for yourself?
- What are the things that you like to do for yourself?
- When’s the last time you’ve done those things?
Taking on the List
At this point, you’re probably going to have a fairly large list from your memory dump. For example, my journal has several pages of brain dumping.
Once when I did this exercise I ended up with six pages of two columns. If I can do it, so can you!
It seems like it’s a huge project because it is. There’s a lot going on in your brain.
If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. And it took a while for you to feel this way, so it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to untangle it all in one sitting.
But getting it all out is the first step. We have to start somewhere. And it’s amazing how good it feels to get it all out. Now that it’s all out, what’s next?
First, we’re going to walk away. As hard as it is not to jump into all the tasks you’ve just outlined, you need to give your brain a break. It’s been working hard!
You’re also most likely going to think of more things. You’ve stirred up a bee’s nest so it’s understandable that more things will come to you. I know you’ll find more things to add.
I keep my journal with me for a few days because it’s easy that way to write everything down as it comes to me.
Give yourself some time to think and then come back to it. Set aside a large chunk of time to make the first-pass at your list – at least 45 minutes.
Now we’re going to go through the list and move items to new lists that we’ll tackle in more manageable bites.
If you’re using paper, it’s easiest if they aren’t bound. Then you can shuffle things around easier. If you’re in digital mode, it helps if you have two monitors. If you don’t have two monitors, consider using a tablet or even your TV as a temporary second monitor.
What is urgent?
First, we’re going to go through our list and mark everything that needs to be done NOW as urgent. I like to use a highlighter to mark a color next to the line.
This is all stuff that can’t wait. You should go through every page.
For each task, ask yourself, does this need to be done right away? Can I afford not to do this right now?
We’re not going to do any of it right this minute, but we do need to identify what those urgent tasks are.
Next, we’re going to go back through that list of urgent tasks and we’re going to look for the important ones.
What are things that are both urgent, and important? These tasks are going to be our top priority. We’ll start our brand new to-do list with those. They should get done in the next few weeks.
What types of tasks are the ones we just identified? Usually, they are things that have sprung up. Those tasks seem to come from nowhere and have this great sense of urgency.
It’s worth it to take some time and see if there’s anything we could have done to prevent this. For me, a lot of these tasks are negated by having a clearly defined goal and a prioritized to-do list.
Sometimes all it takes is a fresh look to realize we can schedule some of these things in the future.
Urgent but not super important?
Now we’re going to look at what’s left of those urgent tasks, but the ones that honestly aren’t that important. Email, social media, and tasks for other people usually make up this group.
If you have a lot of tasks for other people on this list, it’s time to do some soul searching.
Can that person do the task themselves? Does this task align with your goals? Are you being paid to do it (then you probably should do it)?
It’s OK to say no. It’s perfectly fine to say “I’m sorry, I cannot complete that task right now”. You aren’t required to give a reason.
This is YOUR life. You have to start taking control. And the biggest tool you have at your disposal is the ability to say no. I’m giving you permission right now if you need it.
If you can’t say no, these tasks are good ones to be rescheduled or delegated.
Overwhelmed with laundry? Maybe you can turn it into a game with your children.
Who can fill a laundry basket with dirty clothes the soonest? That’s just one example, but it’s OK to get creative here!
Another trick is to set aside time to do these urgent but not important tasks. Set a half hour of your day, for example, to deal with these tasks.
Once the half hour is up, you move on and tackle the next items during your time tomorrow.
What is important but not urgent?
Next, we’re going to go through our list again. This time we’re going to look at all the non-urgent tasks and we’re going to identify the ones that are important.
These tend to be the tasks that align with our personal goals. They are the things that we want to do, but they aren’t screaming to be done right now.
These are tasks that need to get done. They just don’t have to be done right now.
If we ignore them long enough they may become urgent and important. We don’t want them to get to that point. When too many of these tasks stack up, we get overwhelmed.
We’re going to schedule these tasks. I like to pick a few that I’m going to get done in a week and then I schedule time for them.
It’s amazing what scheduling these tasks in advance can do. And remember, if you don’t get them done on your schedule, they may turn into another type of task that is harder to schedule.
And everything else…
And now we have everything else. Here comes the fun part.
These tasks are not urgent. They don’t need to be done right now. They also aren’t important. They aren’t something that even needs to get done.
So what do we do with them? If you feel attached to that particular task, add it to a “someday” list.
Someday you might find that it’s important to you or you might be looking for something fun to do. Now you have a someday list! Yay!
If you don’t feel attached, consider deleting it. This is something that you are saying “no” to.
You are reclaiming your time and making a decision that these tasks won’t bother you anymore.
Is it easy? At first, it won’t be. We’re trained to think we need to do all the things all the time. And that training is hard to break!
But if you’re missing important things because the unimportant things are weighing you down, you’ll never break out of the cycle of overwhelm.
Take a deep breath and start crossing things off. It’s important to put a line through it or delete them from your app.
Sometimes I move them to a “don’t do” list as a reminder that I’m not worrying about those things or focusing on them anymore.
This is where you start setting boundaries in your life. Over time, you will start recognizing these tasks as they come at you. It makes it a lot easier to say no in the future when you know what they are – distractions.
And others will soon learn that you are not the person to go to with that stuff. It’s a huge part of living an intentional life.
Now that you’ve completed your dump, gone through your list, and made a plan of all the things you need to schedule and do (and just as importantly, what not to do), what’s next?
And keep in mind, I know you probably have a large list. But make sure you remember that multitasking doesn’t work. So focus on one thing at a time and get your task list done.
Just because you finished one memory dump doesn’t mean you’ll never have to do it again. In fact, it’s easier and quicker if you make it a regular habit.
It’s a fantastic habit to get into, especially if you make it a priority to mind dump once a week. I tend to do these on a Thursday or Friday so I can relax over the weekend and know my next week is planned out.
I know people who do a morning dump every day and it works well to keep them from getting overwhelmed.
Other times that are perfect for a dump are when you are feeling overwhelmed, before a big project, or before the holidays. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel.
Here are some more resources that I love:
- How To Do a Brain Dump And Relieve Mental Load
- Steps for Organizing Life
- How to Organize a Successful Brain Dump
You don’t have to go another day being overwhelmed and under-prepared. Get these cheat sheets NOW to help you organize your successful brain dump. Friends will be looking at you wondering why can’t I live like that!
If you’re looking for more help with organizing your time, I have an entire series dedicated to helping moms beat back the overwhelmed and change their lives. You can read more about it here: From Overwhelmed to Organized: 7 Steps for Taking Control of Your Life.