The art of the brain dump

I’ll quickly explain my situation: I’m the mom of the most amazing almost 11-month-old boy and I work from home, and I’ve never felt busier. I’ve worked in marketing for a nonprofit organization, a large retail company, a local PR firm, and as an intern for an agriculture lobbyist. Each job has taught me so much and each has challenged me more than I ever realized possible.

Enter: motherhood. When I decided to stay home, I knew I’d still have to work and contribute income. Whatever my paycheck minus daycare was, that was my goal to bring in.

I was blessed to score some freelance gigs, but the work and the daunting task of having a newborn piled up.

How do you manage it all? How do you focus on your precious child who needs you at the drop of a hat, while still trying to squeeze in time for work and being somewhat social? How does one remember it all?

Ladies. You can’t.

It’s impossible. Well, almost.

I wanted to share my recent discovery – a 4-step program that has helped me feel (somewhat) sane. I’ve got a bit of balance back to my life. A tool to help me breathe a bit easier again.

The brain dump.

I’ve always been an avid list-maker, and I’ve always loved the idea of making lists and then working through them. It’s 10 times tougher when your list has categories. At work, it was the “Work” list. Now, it’s “Work/Freelance,” “Grocery shopping,” “Blog,” “Baby,” “Best friend’s wedding,” “Schedule/Appointments,” “Other.” (Not always in that order!)

And I love it all. I LOVE IT ALL.

So how do you stay on top of it all? I’ll say it again. Brain dump.

Step 1: The Brain Dump

Write down EVERYTHING you need to do. ANYTHING that comes to mind. Any to-do list item. No matter how small, how trivial, how annoying; write it down. This is the beautiful brain dump. When you’ve emptied your brain, walk away. Take a breath. Do something else. Then, come back. Did you forget something? Of course, you did! Add it. Review your list. It’s easy at this point to get overwhelmed, but just write. Trust your gut. Add it all. Leave it all on the field. I mean, paper.

Step 2: Categorize and Prioritize

The first step is always so overwhelming. After I list everything, I force myself to do something fun for a minute, because if I stare at the list, I’ll probably start crying. When I’m ready, I’ll take another piece of paper and make the categories. I leave room to add, but start with the first few that I always have to-dos for! Work (spaces for my own business, freelance gigs and misc. projects), Blog (topics and emails I need to send to contributors), Appointments (Doctor appointments, fun stuff like lunch with friends, husband’s appointments) and then other (finalizing signs for a best friend’s wedding, creative projects, volunteering).

After you have your categories, start putting your items into their correct spaces. Doesn’t that already feel better? Now, you can have a clearer view of what is the most pressing, what will bring in money, what needs to happen first. At this point, you can prioritize. I like to use symbols like smiley faces, firecrackers, whatever helps you out! Notate what needs to be done first and what can wait. You can also use colors to help organize!

Step 3: Plan it!

This is probably my favorite part. You have a more organized list now, but it’s still a lot to look at! Well, now that you’ve assigned some deadlines and you know what can wait and what’s important NOW, plan out your week. It doesn’t need to be day by day, minute by minute. My method is to plan by the week and assign tasks accordingly. If I know that I need to have social media plans ready, a press release and two blogs done by next week, I also know that I can push a more creative project out to the week after. I try not to actively plan out more than a month. If I have items that can wait longer than a month, I just include those on another page, and come to it when I’m ready.

Step 4: SLAY and REPEAT

Obviously, it’s hard to plan when you’re a work from home mama, a freelancer or even just someone with a 9 to 5 job! Stuff happens. Make a calendar appointment and do this every two weeks or so, and see what works. This method helps me so that I stay in the know. I don’t forget things (as often!) and I feel like I have a grip on my life. I know what I need to do, I have a handle on projects and I’m ready for updates if clients ask or if I need to make plans.

Now remember, this is all open to interpretation. This system is made to be tweaked. The whole point is to help someone like myself, who thrives on a bit of schedule, to be more flexible. To understand that things come up and plans are changed, but you still need to plan for what you can!

Also, and this is very important – you need to plan for time to be YOU. Whether that’s time for a hobby, learning a new skill, relaxing, going to the beach, online shopping but never buying anything, sleeping, making cupcakes and bringing them to me, find a creative outlet and make time for it. No matter how busy you feel, you need to watch out for you. At the end of the day, you’re the only person who will really be there for YOU. Even if it’s a massage once every two months, or 5 minutes a day for doodling, or 3 hours of your favorite show on Netflix after that big project you were dreading, go for it. TREAT YO’SELF.

What method of planning helps you stay on top of things? What tricks and tools do you prefer? Share below and help a sister/mother/freelancer out!

And never forget – whatever works for you, WORKS FOR YOU. If it works to brain dump, do it. If you’re more of an on-the-fly kind of gal, go for it. This is just a post about what helped me feel like I was back to the old me, but in a new “crushin-it-mama” kind of way. Do you and love every minute of it!

Let’s be besties & connect!
Kelly Strausbaugh
Let’s be Besties blog
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