Racing mind distracting you from falling asleep? Waking up in the middle of the night remembering something important you were supposed to do? Your mom’s birthday. Paying your taxes. Follow up from the staff meeting. A creative project you want to start. They all take up space in our awareness. And often it is this uncaptured mess of thoughts that keep us from falling asleep and staying asleep.
I have learned that getting enough sleep is one of my most critical self care habits. If I don’t get to bed early enough, my day is one of overwhelm and ineffectiveness in all aspects of my life- at home, at work, and in my relationships.
In a recent chat with one of my yoga health coaching clients our conversation centered on the idea of getting enough sleep- and the difference between getting into bed (which she is good at) and falling asleep (which she resists). There are many reasons why we might resist falling asleep- the belief that we won’t be as fun if we have a 9pm bedtime. Or that we are missing out on something we could be doing to make our life more satisfying.
In her case, though, it was because there was a lot of mental chatter happening as she tried to juggle a massive shift in responsibilities in her personal life. Our conversation became one about a real and practical issue: sometimes our resistance to letting go of the day is because we have not effectively closed it off- we are still carrying ideas, thoughts and to-do’s with us as we hop into bed. This open loop prevents us from fully embracing our fatigue, surrendering into the sweetness of being rather than doing, and falling asleep.
So I taught her a trick- how to do a “mind dump”.
The Mind Dump
Over 10 years I was introduced to the work of David Allen. Allen’s book- Getting Things Done– spoke to me so much that I spent a weekend in Seattle in one of his seminars. One of my biggest learnings from my studies of his work was David’s version of the mind dump- what he calls a “brain dump.” Allen says that one of the key ways we can reduce stress is by learning to capture “everything-little or big, personal or professional, urgent or not. Everything.”
My initial work with this tool was purely in the professional realm- I saw the benefits solely in the context of how they could improve my ability to manage my growing list of projects as an Executive Director of an expanding non-profit organization.
Now that most of my work is with clients in the realm of self care, wellness and health, I see that my “mind dump” nets me much bigger benefits. It is one of the key tools I use to close off my day and create the best-case-scenario for getting enough sleep. When I know everything is captured in one place I can step away from my day and rest easy for the night.
So how do you get started?
Creating Your Mind Dump
1. Set a time each day to sit down and capture everything. As David Allen says- “Get it all out of your head.” This might be at the end of your work day before you leave the office. It might be after dinner- before you start to wind down for the night. Or- if you need extra rest like my client or need to be clear before you move onto the next part of your day- it might be after lunch or before your next appointment.
The time of the day doesn’t matter, but scheduling it in DOES. Set up a trigger to instigate a new habit – an alarm on your iphone, a reserved spot on your google calendar, or a stop at a coffee shop on the way home from work that is reserved solely for this purpose. Give this habit some dedicated time each day and set up the structure so that you don’t miss the opportunity.
2. Create ONE place where you capture everything. A spiral bound notebook dedicated to your mind dump. An online system in Evernote that syncs with your phone. A dedicated project in Basecamp or your favorite project management tool. What is the most practical, accessible, useful tool for you?
Me? I tend to be a paper girl- as much as I love my electronic tools, the fastest way for me to capture quickly is a notebook. A big capture might be 2-3 pages long. A shorter one half a page. I use Moleskin notebooks- their design makes me appreciate the importance of what I am capturing.
The one no-no: scraps of paper, post it notes and multiple capture tools. You need to have everything in ONE place- a place you can reliably access both to capture and then to later process your mind dump.
Which brings us to the next tip…
3. Let go of the need to process what you are writing as you are capturing it. How often have you sabotaged yourself by getting distracted by your to-do list? In our effort to lessen our overwhelm, we often trick ourselves into dealing with the lowest hanging fruit in the belief that crossing things off our to-do list will net us the biggest benefit.
If this is your deal then staying focused on capturing rather than processing will require effort AND potentially net you the biggest gain. Why? Because if you fail to capture effectively, you will not effectively close off the day. And closing off the day is one of the most underutilized techniques for getting better sleep.
So when do you process your mind dump? Creating dedicated time to process is key. You have to create a system for emptying the bucket regularly. There are MANY different ways we can organize ourselves- if these ideas have captured you check out David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done.” This website is a great resource for best practices. Finding a system that works for you takes time- but to start, the mind dump- capturing- is a good way to start clearing space for yourself.
The one tip I can offer? This one again comes from David Allen: when you DO take the time to process, if the task it will take you less than two minutes do it right then rather than transferring into an organizational system.
Getting to bed. Getting to sleep. Staying asleep. If more sleep is one of your keystone habits, and making it happen is a struggle, consider the benefits of a mind dump. Every other sleep trick I can offer you- eating earlier, self massage, a walk after dinner, going to sleep before 10- will be amplified by this ONE trick- getting your thoughts, ideas and inspirations out of your head.