David Allen, a productivity consultant, pioneered a method of time management known simply as “Getting Things Done.” In his book under the same name, he explores elements of the methodology, among which exists a concept known as the “the mind sweep.”

If you constantly feel overwhelmed, the concept of the mind sweep has the potential to change your life. It enables you to take control and restore order, peace and tranquility.

What is the GTD Methodology?

The Getting Things Done (GTD) method is currently one of the most popular productivity systems on the market. Its efficient system allows you to clear your mind of all the inputs and focus exclusively on the things that are really important. This allows you to get more work done and do it in the most efficient possible.

One of the principles David Allen stresses the most in his book is that the brain should be used for what it’s good for — thinking, analyzing, and creating. Once you stop using your brain to store information and retrieve it, you can free up a lot of your mental energy to participate in activities that are high on reward and priority.

GTD helps sort everything you have to do and capture it into a trusted system so that you can handle it later on your terms. Once this is done, your brain will finally be able to rest and function the way it was designed to, which results in the creation of good ideas. This natural, efficient state is referred to by David Allen as “mind like water.”

“Mind like water” is a state of being in a clear mental space. Imagine being in a state with nothing unproductive weighing you down. You’d be able to dedicate all your time and attention to the task at hand, without any distractions. You would be present and mindful. This is what the Mind Sweep aims to help you with.

What are the Basic Steps of GTD?

There are five basic steps involved in the GTD methodology. They’re as follows:

Capture

We all have great ideas occur to us at different moments. Many of us forget to write them down. Since our brain is made for generating ideas and not storing them, these brilliant ideas end up getting lost in the process.

Similarly, there are so many things we need to get done in a day or a week, but the lack of planning often leaves everything in shambles. We end up jumping to do the first task we see, putting the other important tasks on hold forever.

Therefore, it’s important to capture everything. This can be done through physical or digital notes, whichever you prefer. Make sure these notes are available to you at all times, so you know what to do next.

Clarify

Once you’ve gathered everything, you will need to see whether all of these ideas belong in your rolodex of ideas. If you refrain from clarifying, your ideas can pile up and will feel harder to process.

If the idea isn’t “actionable,” decide to either remove it from your space, save to use it as reference, or “put it on hold.”

Organize

Organization is key in the GTD methodology. You know how the folders we buy have different labels we can attach to them that helps us segregate thing properly? This part of the methodology is essentially that.

Look at the things you’ve gathered and classified as important, and figure out which category they belong to. They could either be important, something you can do a little later, or even something that doesn’t require your attention at all.

Reflect

One of the reasons the GTD method doesn’t work for everyone is because people fail to reflect and review. It won’t work if you keep making lists and don’t come back to them to see what all has been completed and what remains pending.

Clean up and update your lists. Consistently review and keep making necessary adjustments. This helps you have some amount of control over your tasks and life in general.

Engage

The most productive people already know what they’re going to do the rest of the day. This last bit relates to that. It’s very easy to execute, especially if you’ve followed the previous step and are on top of things already.

Just look at your list and start working on the tasks. If your lists are clear and all your activities are organized into the proper containers, this won’t be hard to accomplish.

How To Do A Mind Sweep

The idea behind the mind sweep is that you identify everything that requires your attention or has the possibility of seeping into and affecting other parts of your life. These include things that are stealing your focus, not letting you get your work done properly, etc.

When you identify these things, you will realize that there are things in your head that you haven’t been doing anything about. More often than not, this is related to some level of incompletion or procrastination. As long as things keep accumulating, there’s no way they will get done. But fear not! You can start to progress through these actions with a mind sweep.

To start:

  • Find the right place: In order to do a mind sweep, you must first find the ideal place to do it. Choose a spot or a room or a place that’s quiet, can let you think, and doesn’t offer any distractions.
  • Write it down: Making a list can often be anxiety-inducing, but it can also be a great way to clear your mind. You could start with a single sheet of blank paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and write down every unfinished task that’s making you anxious at the moment. Begin with the project that you’re the most behind on. Scribble down every little thought that’s making you cringe, pause, ponder, etc. Since these are the processes responsible for the issues in your brain, you need to let them out. You can even write down every thought on a different piece of paper, and consider this as a complete brain dump. Not into writing this manually? You could even record yourself on a digital device.
  • Put everything in your in-tray: The in-tray is where you can keep all the lists or any other articles you’ve gathered or created. This could either be a physical tray or folder, or even a digital project in Hive. The most valuable function of an in-tray is that you don’t have to think about a particular task until you’re ready to do it. The in-tray also allows you to have a clear idea of the things you need to do, so that you don’t forget about them.

Once you’ve collected things in your in-tray, you can figure out how to action items with a few key steps. If the items aren’t actionable, you can move it into the “Trash” section. If it’s a task that will take less than two minutes, it’s best to start right away, and if it’s longer, you can sort into a few other categories that will help guide approach. This is all simple and easy to do in Hive. Within the app, you can create a project titled “Mind Sweep” and use the Kanban view to sort tasks into “In-tray,” “Actionable,” “Trash” and “Done,” which will help you see which tasks are actual to-dos, which are irrelevant, and track which you’ve completed. This is a great illustration from Hamberg.no that illustrates the workflow of the GTD method and mind sweep, and what happens once you’ve got things in your in-tray.

GTD Methodology
Image via Hamberg.no

Summing Up

We know work is stressful. There are a million reasons why so many of us go through anxiety, stress, panic, depression, and other mental health issues related to work, school, household-related issues, etc.

In these stressful situations, the mind sweep can be a huge help. It gives you a clear objective and perspective, and lets you view things in a fresh and novel light. It often happens that we stress ourselves out over things that aren’t too important, and the mind sweep helps to bring that into focus.

If you find yourself stuck and in the middle of chaos that needs to be organized, the mind sweep is a strategy worth considering. Go through all the things that need your attention, jot them down, and see which ones you have to get to and complete first. You’ll slowly see yourself working through all the tasks, and eventually all the accumulated stress will begin to vanish away.