Tuesday 15 December 2009

Spacing Out and Mental RAM

You know that moment, when you feel you are at a loose end? There is a pile of work in front of you and a long to-do list, there are various people demanding your attention and a long day of work ahead and yet you just are not inclined to do anything anytime soon except sit and stare into space (or maybe your computer screen so you don’t get in trouble for skiving). Funnily enough, at the same time my brain is bubbling up with ideas, reminders and thoughts, all jostling with day-dreams for mental space.

A good thing to do at a time like this is what David Allen calls a mental “RAM Dump” in his book “Getting Things Done”. He describes the way we often have so much going on in our head: the pressure of things we need to get done, our projects, work, appointment’s our anxieties. Our brain does not differentiate between what is urgent or what can be put off and so everything feels urgent. This build-up of data and tasks to do means that not only are we distracted, but feel often on the verge of mental overload. Allen suggests taking pen and paper and writing down everything that is in your head, once it is on paper you can prioritise and take steps to deal with what is important.

I usually do this using two or three blank pieces of paper, split under the headings of:
- to do today
- to do this week
- to do anytime
- ideas and thoughts

I then write down every single thing that I can think of. Between them these list allows me to empty my mind and clear my head. This exercise helps give me clear direction on what I should do next and therefore motivates me.

I will have a go at this in a little bit before I waste the whole day in a fluster, but I think I might sit here and enjoy staring into space a bit for the moment.

image source


  1. HMM, I do this very often. Especially when there are too many things 'crowding' in my brain. Even though I think I work at 100% efficiency (except when I glance into my reader....) there are a dozen things that get left behind and add to my stress.

    Pouring everything out of paper helps clear the head indeed; but it also helps in getting the most important things done quickly.

    No wonder they use the term 'parietal disengorgement aid' for those little notepads that help you organize your day.

  2. *pouring everything out *on* paper....

  3. Assalam-alaikam,
    I thought you were joking till I googled 'parietal disengorgement aid', I found this:


    It's actually not such a bad idea.

  4. Alhamdulillah!
    It's good to find another GTD'er. I have taken a lot of benefit from David Allen's program, and it has really helped in keeping things running in our busy house. As with everything else, the biggest challenge is staying consistent. Now if I can only find the time to do a "RAM dump."

  5. i know the feeling, i alwyas have a hundred things to remember everyday but write a random list in no order, i like the heading idea... although spacing out means i get to ignore the children when they start being silly.