April 16, 2019

Is your stress ball growing?

Bit by bit, it can often feel like a rock rolling downhill, gathering moss in the form of all those little items that ping into your mind at random intervals. You’re in the kitchen and realize you’ve run out of foil—gotta pick that up—then you get a text reminding you of a family member’s birthday—don’t forget to buy a present!—and there are a million things you have to clean or buy or do or say or watch.

All this stimuli can often add up to a giant stress ball taking up much more space in your head than you’d think.

In honor of Stress Awareness Month, I have a stress-relieving solution with a cut-and-dry name: the brain dump.

Why You Need to Do a Brain Dump

Let me tell you about its virtues: it’s fast, it’s simple, and it works.

The brain dump is a way to clear up all those “important but not urgent” tasks that ping around your brain but don’t rise to the top of your to-do list. They don’t usually have deadlines attached to them, which is exactly why you haven’t done them. And the only way to clear this space is to get them all down on paper (or on your phone).

The brain dump is a way to clear up all those “important but not urgent” tasks that ping around your brain but don’t rise to the top of your to-do list.
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Research shows that journaling is an effective stress management tool and converts negative energy (like all those stressful to-dos) into positive creativity and growth and also increases your tolerance of unpredictable situations. It makes you able to tackle whatever happens.

A brain dump is similar, yet feels a little less like journaling and more like excavating.


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Here’s How to Start Your Own Brain Dump

Take a piece of paper—or grab your favorite note-taking device—and sit down when you have at least 15 minutes to commit to this activity.

Start listing every random thing that you’ve been telling yourself you should do. Big or small, it all goes on the lists: Things that are undone, things you don’t know how to do, those go on the list, too. Work tasks. Life tasks. Keep writing.

Start listing every random thing that you’ve been telling yourself you should do.
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Your list might be very long—mine is usually dozens of items. But every time I do a dump, I look at it and think…at least these are no longer in my head!!

Here are a few examples from my recent purge:

— Clean my humidifier (a thought I have every time I look at it) — Charge the battery for my vacuum cleaner — Get winter boots resoled (to stop that incessant tapping) — Organize my dresser (even if I can’t go fully KonMari, I could try to make an effort) — Research a cheaper cell phone plan — Reconnect with that old work friend — Find a new optometrist (and then get new glasses)

What to Do Next

Now that you have your monstrous, master list, you get to tame it. Go through and look at which tasks involve physical places (i.e. you need to run an errand and go somewhere else to do it), and which are digital (i.e. a website you can log in to).

Group them by type of activity: Home, Digital, and Errand. My humidifier, dresser, and vacuum tasks involve being at home. Researching a cell phone plan and finding a new optometrist are Digital and fixing my boots involves going outside into the world—it’s an Errand.

Then think about the first step for each of these. “Find a new optometrist” is vague. But “Ask two friends with cool glasses where they got them” is a much more specific task. Rewrite your vague tasks as more specific ones.

The trick with initiating a power hour, of course, is understanding what needs to be done. Your “brain dump” list can give you that framework.
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You can also separate your tasks by the time involved—a handful of disparate tasks can be grouped together in what the author Gretchen Rubin calls a “power hour,” a highly effective tool for getting a bunch of (usually annoying) stuff done as quickly as possible. For example: All those 10-minute tasks you have around the house? You could knock ‘em all out while listening to a one hour-long podcast.

The trick with initiating a power hour, of course, is understanding what needs to be done. Your “brain dump” list can give you that framework. When I gauged how long my tasks will take (and put a number next to them) I realized my three “home” tasks will actually only take a half hour total. That’s definitely doable.

Make Your Brain Dumps a Habit

Once you start the brain dump, you won’t be able to stop. I started to keep a 5x7 notecard in random places around my apartment for when I wanted to add something so it wouldn’t escape my mind before I found my master list.

You don’t have to keep that stress ball in your head. Try releasing it with a brain dump, and watch it clear the way for you to take action.
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You can also schedule your own brain dumps—why not set a recurring event every Friday afternoon? That “3 p.m. brain dump with myself” can help you enter the weekend with a clearer mind.

Bottom line: You don’t have to keep that stress ball in your head. Try releasing it with a brain dump, and watch it clear the way for you to take action.


Read next: Unfinished Tasks Stacking Up? Tackle Them With a ‘Clear the Decks’ List

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