It’s 3:42 AM, and your brain is too busy to let you sleep.
You got up to pee (because part of that body-after-baby deal is a semi-permanently crushed bladder), checked the time on your phone, and crawled back into bed because (thank goodness!) there are still a couple hours of sleep-time left. You snuggle under the blankets, adjust your pillow until it’s juuuust right, close your eyes and…
Cue mental to-do list.
You’re not trying to do this. You’re trying to sleep!
But it’s happening anyway: your too-busy brain is running a scrolling list across the back of your eyelids. All the left-undones and haven’t-done-yets you’ve ever contemplated are pouring into your consciousness, and your hopes of sleep are plummeting like a (screaming) toddler’s scoop of rainbow sherbet falling off an unbalanced cone.
I’ve been there, mama.
In fact, this used to be a scene that played out for me every night–until I learned a simple trick to clear out my over-full brain.
The “Brain Dump” Exercise
Mama, let me introduce you to the Brain Dump technique–my go-to trick to clear the brain clutter and soothe some of that “never-enough” anxiety that moms haul around.
We’re going to clean out our brains in three steps. Just like you’d clean out your purse, we’re going to dump everything out, toss the trash, and put the important stuff where it belongs.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Step One: Dump That Brain
Start by grabbing a pen and paper. I like these 4″x6″ lined Post-Its so I can keep my lists handy in my planner, but any paper will do!
If you’ve never done a brain dump before, be prepared that it might fill up several pages.
The point of this exercise is to get every crumb of thought on paper so you don’t have to try to hold it in your mind anymore. You don’t have to actually do everything you scribble on this list–we’ll be prioritizing in step two.
So sit down, and write down anything and everything that has been floating around in your brain.
Step Two: Prioritize & Assign
Okay. Everything that was crowding your mind is now on paper. Now it’s time to prioritize. And please note:
Don’t try to fit everything from your “brain dump” list onto this week’s to-do list!!!
That will leave you ugly-crying in your pantry with a box of Thin Mints, and we all know Girl Scout cookies are best enjoyed in the pantry without the ugly-cry. 😉 It’s okay to leave some things unassigned for now!
First, put anything time sensitive on your calendar. These are to-do items that must by done by a certain date, like sending a birthday card or having paperwork filled out for an upcoming doctor’s appointment.
Second, put anything urgent or important on your to do list for the week. (Remember–if you assign everything on that list to yourself for this week, you’re gonna be feeling a little like Tobey Maguire. So be honest with yourself about what deserves priority!)
Urgent things don’t have a date-specific due date, but they need attention in the next week or so. Maybe your child has outgrown his tennis shoes, or the oil-change light has gone on in your car. Not date-dependent, but not things you want to ignore, either.
Important things don’t need to be tackled now, but are meaningful enough to you that you want to work on them now. Maybe it’s been a while since you went out with your husband, and you want to prioritize setting up a date night, or you’ve been meaning to get your hair cut for months and you feel like it’s time to prioritize that little bit of self-care.
PRO TIP: I actually have a handful of small, categorized to-do lists (a trick I learned from the Mind Organization for Moms e-course) that helps me focus on getting things done in batches. I write them along the bottom of my planner page, and assign my to-do’s to the appropriate list.
These four categories help me keep track of what I need to do in four zones:
- at home,
- on the phone,
- at the computer, or
- out running errands.
This helps me use my task-management time (read: moments when the kids are busy) way more efficiently!
Third, cross anything you’ve assigned off your brain dump list. Once an item is on your calendar or your weekly to do list, you can cross it off your brain dump list. Yay!
But wait–what about the rest of the stuff on that list?!
Read on. 😉
Step Three: Set Aside & Review (Later)
If you’re anything like me, there will still be a good number of things that haven’t been crossed off your original.
These are things that aren’t urgent or time sensitive, but still important enough to have taken up brain space. All you have to do with this is set it aside, somewhere safe, and then look over it again next week and decide which items to add to that week’s to-do list.
I’ve found that the trick to being able to truly let go of all these swirling thoughts is to write them down, and then keep them in a place where I won’t lose them, and can review them. That’s the only way my brain will trust the system enough to let all the niggling worries clear out.
I like to keep my 4×6 Post-It stuck to one of next week’s planner pages, so that when I plan out my upcoming week on Saturday or Sunday, it is right there waiting for me.
So that’s it–three steps to empty your mind of that whirlwind that keeps you up at night.
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