How David Allen’s Mental Sweep Saved my Brain




Moving is never easy.

Yet as I observe my actions over the past weeks, I must admit that it appears to be exactly what I’m preparing to do. (Fair warning: This short entry is going to be more personal and less actionable than of most of my articles. You have been warned.)

As a traveller, perhaps you’ll find my process (and progress) interesting as I prepare to head to Hawaii next month.

Last week, I woke up and realized that I had far more projects swirling around in my head than just those that I’d written down in my Next Actions list for the day. I needed to do a core dump of my brain, and I knew it.

A half an hour and 23 projects later, I was feeling a lot better. That’s not to say that I did 23 projects. I would truly be a superman if I completed that many projects in one day. Believe it or not, I’m not superman (or batman); but I did pin down exactly what needs to be done before head out on April 5th.

David Allen discusses this in his seriously bodacious book “Getting Things Done.” He calls it a mental sweep, wherein you write everything you feel you need to get done, every commitment, every to-do.

The effects of this mental core dump are nothing short of magnificent. Now that I have everything down on a piece of paper, I no longer have to expend any energy trying to remember it all. Too often, intelligent people like us think we can remember lists of projects and yet somehow still be spontaneous, creative, and in the flow.

Sound familiar?

But this isn’t how it works in practice, is it? If you’re anything like me, you have a sense of clawing dread at the back of your mind. Somehow, you know you’ve forgotten something…

Or maybe that never happens to you. Congrats! Perhaps you’re a god-human or something, but I’ve certainly experienced it.

Yet by doing the mental sweep, everything is changed. Our conscious minds are freed up to not worry about actions in the future, which frees them up to be spontaneous in the present.

And this ‘freeing up’ is what allowed me to write this article in the first place!

Just imagine if we could track true productivity, transparently and publicly. What if GTD practices were game-ified, and people could earn globally-recognized points for creating value and doing good work? The Gamification of Productivity is something that I’ve been thinking about recently, but that’s best saved for another article. And I guess you could say Twitter is already a game, of a kind.

Anyway, more news about the impending Grand Hawaii Adventure soon. I’m going to have to expand the Byteful Guide map at this rate!



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