How to get back in control

Mind-SweepWhenever we lose steam in our GTD practice, I feel like the most powerful exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.”  Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control.

The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather a complete inventory of everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life. You need to capture all of the “open loops” in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things.

If it’s not being directly managed in an external trusted system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche and that is a bad thing. The point is you need to make sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The Mind-Sweep

The mind-sweep is really simple. I break it down into two parts.

First, I take my phone and literally walk around my house and office and use Fast Ever Snap to take pictures of things that I want/need to do something about. It is important not to  judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them captured. Many items will be in the someday/maybe category that I may not actually get to doing for a long time. That’s okay. The critical part is to capture everything.

Literally, start in your front yard and take pictures of everything that you might want to do something about. Maybe it’s trimming the trees or weeding the planter or changing the driveway to bricks. Just start capturing everything. Then go to the side of the house, then the backyard, the garage, and every room in your house. Don’t skip closets of drawers as they can easily be a source of subconscious stress. Do I need to go thru the file drawer to find those important papers? How about that junk drawer in the kitchen?

Once you have completed this physical inventory of all your stuff, move on the second phase of the mind-sweep. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 10 minutes, and just begin to inventory every conceivable anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain.

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every flash of thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out.

Think about it like brainstorming. Don’t judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them on paper. Remember, this is your opportunity to convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two.  I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 10 minutes is up, look at the list and process it.  Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

Phone or paper for on-the-go collection of your stuff?

pen paper phoneWhich is better – paper or smartphone – for capturing your “stuff” when you are out and about?  I know many people who successfully use both solutions for the capture phase of their systems.  Truth be told, either will work fine.

I use Evernote on my phone as my ubiquitous capture tool for several reasons. I always have my phone on me and with tools like Fast Ever for iOS or the Evernote Widget for Android adding stuff to my trusted system is fast and easy. Another reason I prefer this method is notes captured on my phone are “born digital” and therefore I do not have to type them into my system from paper which eliminates double entry.

Paper aficionados swear by the simplicity of pen and paper. It is hard to argue with that logic and it has worked for centuries. There are many note-taker solutions designed to be kept with you at all times on the market that work well.

There are two keys to either system – analog or digital.  First, you must always have it with you so you can immediately capture your stuff whenever and wherever your are. Second, you have to have a friction-free system for capturing your stuff. If their is any friction in your capture system you will tend to not capture that idea/task/deliverable/commitment/etc. right there in the moment.

Even though most people always carry their phone, some of the most savvy GTDers also use pen and paper for collection.  The key is to know what methods reduce the friction in your system and will be available at all times. If the device is not easy to use for getting stuff off your mind and into your trusted GTD system, you’ll tend to use it less.

How do you get things off your mind when you are mobile? Phone, paper, or a combination?

Here are some of my previous posts on capturing your stuff:

Using Evernote as the foundation of your GTD system

You must have your capture device with you at all times

Getting Started – The Initial Capture

Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

SiriI use Siri on my iPhone to capture any idea that comes to me when I am driving. It is fantastic because I don’t have to unlock my phone, launch an app, or type anything that would distract me from driving. All I have to do is hold down the home button on my iPhone and wait for the familiar beep that is Siri. Then I say “text inbox” and whatever I want added to my trusted system. It is that easy!

Here is what you need to do. Set up a contact called Inbox in the Last Name field of your contacts with your Evernote email address. Once you have this you are ready to go.

The reason you use text instead of email is Siri asks for the subject when you email but not when you text. Now, when you go to your default Evernote folder (Unprocessed for me) you will have a “Mailed In Note” with your “stuff” in the body of the note.

This is a simple way to avoid distracted driving while capturing your “stuff” in the car. For most recent cars that have bluetooth integration you can use the cars built in microphone and speakers to truly make it an integrated experience.

Try it, you will be amazed how well it works.