At the beginning of yesterday morning, it looked like a tornado struck the inside of my house.
It’s understandable. In the past three weeks, I’ve been out of town at an astrology conference; returned to Austin in the midst of statewide flooding of historic proportions; had my daughter home for two weeks in the hiatus between school days and summer camp; and had a house guest for a week.
Plus the normal work.
We all know it’s hard to keep up when you’re constantly in motion. As your environment whirls, so does your mind.
I was fortunate yesterday that a scheduling snafu allowed me space to shift the whirlwind to the homefront. The day began with taking out the trash. Followed by several loads of dishes, laundry, and a list of other routine tasks begging attention after a 3-week absence.
Today I awoke to a pristinely clean home-and-office. Quiet even with the child back at camp. And wonder:
“Wow. This place is immaculate. So why is my mind still spinning?”
That’s because my brain is still full.
As Without, So Within
There’s a symbiotic relationship between what’s outside and what’s inside. A cluttered house and office made it difficult to focus; yet my spinning mind also create the clutter from lack of attention.
Fortunately, you can work on one of them, to work on the other. The alchemists knew this. As they experimented how to turn base metals into gold, they were also observing how nature and the psyche also transform. Feng Shui works the same way; change the outer world to begin a change within.
But for me, I find the fastest way to stop the mental spinning is the “mind dump” exercise popularized by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done.
Here’s the basic idea. Your mind is trying to help you by keeping track of all of your to-do items. And reminds you to do them from time to time. Only thing is, it reminds you at inappropriate times. Like when you’re in the middle of a project, or trying to read, or at 3 am when you’re trying to sleep.
So you need to get those to-do’s out of your mind and into a reliable system that will remind you at appropriate times, leaving your mind’s stage free for more creative endeavors.
The Classic Mind Dump
The exercise itself is simple. Sit down with a stack of paper. Label the sheets things like “work” and “home” and “childcare” or whatever is appropriate for your life. Then write down everything that comes to mind that you think you should be doing.
Don’t edit. Just write. The idea is not to judge or analyze. Only to get the stuff out of your mind and onto a piece of paper. We’ll put it all into order soon, I promise. For right now, just get it out of your brain.
If you’ve never done this before, you may end up with quite a list. You may also discover that, after the initial flood of ideas, your mind continues to serve up more over the following hours, as it realizes it’s finally got your attention. (The first time I did this exercise, it actually took about three days for the crazy ideas to start slowing down.) Don’t worry. It’s normal. Just add them to the list.
Once you get to a stopping point, notice your mind. Did you catch a glimpse of stillness there? Like sun peaking through the clouds? If you do, remember it. It’s this feeling of calm clarity we’ll be seeking on The Great Genius Adventure.
It’s a signpost we’re heading in the right direction.