Brain Dumps, Prioritization And Productivity: A Beginners Guide To Getting Things Done

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my plans for the coming months and the start of the new year.

There’s a lot I want to release next year and it’s all wrapped around a strategy that essentially rests on finally getting myself a proper sales funnel of my own products (if you’re new to the Sales Funnel concept, read my introductory series of articles starting here).

This strategy has a lot of layers to it and each layer contains many tasks that need to get done. There’s everything from product creation, to sales pages, email sequences, product delivery, traffic generation, conversion, content creation, and all the bits and pieces that go together for a typical information product business.

The Sales Funnel

I’ve never properly set up a sales funnel, so I’m excited by the potential and motivated to make it happen. I have a lot of untapped leverage within my existing work, so much of this process will be about releasing “hidden” profits and distributing my content to new places.

No doubt much of what I have described is on your to-do list as well. There’s a never ending list of tasks like this for an information marketer. The unfortunate side effect is feeling overwhelmed, that you are working hard but not getting anywhere.

To make this process more effective, a big part of my strategy is to sequence the tasks in the right order. For example, there’s no point working on traffic building techniques if you’ve got no way to leverage the traffic you bring in.

To help accomplish these tasks, and more importantly, to reduce my stress, eliminate feelings of overwhelm and give me a clear order of tasks to focus on, I am completing a process of brain dumping and prioritization.

The Brain Dump Technique

To put it simply, a brain dump is taking all the things you are thinking about, worrying about and mulling over that you have to do or that takes your attention, and “dumping” it into a document.

Don't let this happen to youMy preferred tool for brain dumping used to be good old fashioned pen with a big notebook, but lately I’m more of an Evernote devotee because of the cloud based back-up. There is still something satisfying about using pen and paper though, seeing that big list of scribble that just spewed forth from your brain gives you a sense of clearing space.

Entrepreneurs often struggle to sleep because during the evening you mentally review all the things you have to do. To make matters worse, usually while in bed you’re not in work mode, so you don’t go and start to complete a task. Instead you are trapped in your bed, thinking about what you have to do which leads to more things you have to do. It’s stressful because all you do is open loops, never closing them. Obviously it is not conducive to a good nights rest.

Personally I have no issues falling asleep, I tend to only suffer from this problem when I wake up in the early morning before I get my eight hours of necessary shut-eye. That’s when my nervous system is out of whack from being undercooked, which leads to my head reviewing my previous day and what’s coming up in the new day. If I get carried away, my thoughts turn to a complete life-review, which I have to stop myself from doing if I want to get back to sleep.

The brain dump is a great antidote to the sleepless entrepreneur problem, if you let it be.

The key after doing a brain dump, is that you must allow yourself to rely on whatever tool you just used to clear your head. The notes you have taken are not to be pondered until it’s work time, and then only to pick your next task for that day.

If you brain dump and just continue to think about everything, that’s not a proper clearing process. You need to essentially “forget” about the issue until it’s the right time to focus on it. That’s why you have to trust your notes – everything is there when you need it so you don’t have to worry about it.

Prioritization Is Next

David Allen's Getting Things Done Productivity BookIf you have followed the advice offered by the popular book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, you will be aware of the idea of always having a device to jot down tasks (a notepad and pen, or your mobile phone for example) and then grouping them into projects and prioritizing.

I like the principles and techniques David teaches, but I have to admit I found his full system too much. The task of collecting and prioritizing became a big task in itself. I found it overkill, I can function with something simpler.

My process of prioritization is somewhat free-flowing to match my lifestyle (and personality I suppose too). I stick to timeframes based on what I need to do to keep the status quo running smoothly (blog posts, emails, existing commitments coming up during the week such as interviews) and do these things early to create time to get the moving forward tasks done during the rest of the week.

To decide what part of a new project to work on during my moving forward time, I take into account two variables -

  1. What makes sense to work on now based on a logical order
  2. What I feel like doing in the moment

When I say “logical order” this is my own internal strategizing process. I use the 80/20 Rule, the Theory of Constraints and my own experiences to decide what needs to get done first.

It’s not really that tricky when you think about, it makes common sense to do certain things before others.

For example, right now I’m working with two contractors to get info products ready for the new year. Hence at the moment I focus all my new project time on the product delivery aspects such as –

  • Creating product
  • Setting up product delivery technology
  • Payment processing system
  • Sales pages

It makes sense for me to focus on these aspects now, so when I send traffic to my site and people join my newsletter, I have products they can buy and benefit from.

I could spend my time working on video marketing, or optimize and increase the number of podcasts I do, or write more blog content, or focus on my affiliate program, or any number of things. If however I don’t have my sales and conversion process established, most of those activities will just make me more “busy”, not significantly more profitable.

At the moment I monetize primarily via advertising and affiliate income. Solid revenue sources for sure, but not in my experience as good as having your own product (in terms of financial return, personal gratification and business building).

What’s more important to me now, which I should have focused on years ago, is setting up a funnel that converts and determine my visitor value (how much on average one person joining my funnel is worth to my business). From there I can go to work increasing traffic.

There’s no point filling a boat with people if it’s full of leaks. Fix the leaks first, then sell tickets.

Mood Swings

One area that people rarely talk about when it comes to task prioritization is mood and energy. This is unfortunate because I believe mood management as a technique for energy efficiency is potentially the most important aspect of productivity.

I’m not going to pester you with the basics of body health. You obviously know it is important to eat small regular healthy meals, to get a good nights rest and exercise. These are core practices to set in place to keep your machine – your body – running at optimum levels. The rest of the process is all about managing your energy levels, choosing to do the right task to match where your body is at.

For example I’m typing this at a chocolate and coffee shop in the Brisbane CBD with an entire afternoon of available time (I’m drinking tea by the way). I started writing at 2pm, the first business related work I have done today. I have a solid amount of distraction-free time available, I feel motivated to create and I have food in my belly. That’s an optimal situation for me to put in a good couple of hours of writing, which I have.

If it was late at night and I was tired, but not quite ready for bed tired, I’m not about to start writing an article. I need to be fresh for that. Instead this is a time to do smaller tasks, but still tasks that can help move my new projects forward.

For example, I need to assign tasks and give materials to a tech contractor, so she can get my new products ready for download. Do this I just write some short instructions and attach some files into a to-do in Basecamp. When I wake up the next day, chances are the work will already be done.

Perhaps because I’ve had such a flexible work schedule for so long (I’ve been an internet entrepreneur for nearly 13 years), I’ve always been very responsive to my moods (you might say a little too responsive!). Most people have to force themselves to work while tired, or do tasks they hate as part of a job. If I’m tired, I have a nap. If I’m hungry, I eat now, not on some kind of schedule someone else decided upon. I get to pick the tasks I do, so most of the time I do things I like, for example, write this article you are reading now.

It’s important not to fight your energy and moods, but to leverage them. Work with your energy flows, don’t fight them, assuming you have your basics covered with good body health.

If you have an hour spare to listen to some great training on energy management from Tony Schwartz, in a presentation he did for the staff at Google –

Brain Dump, Prioritize And Work With Your Energy

Do you want a recipe for a productive day? Well you have one now…

I’ve just given you a very powerful, yet simple in concept, three-step formula:

  1. Brain Dump everything on to paper or a digital tool so you don’t have to waste energy thinking about all of it and get a good night sleep
  2. Prioritize your notes into tasks based on a logical order of performance
  3. Work on the tasks, being mindful to align your body, mood and energy levels with the type of effort required to get the job done.

You can also use these techniques for your entire life, it does not have to be about your business. It can be caring for your family, or planning an exercise program, or completing a university degree. Everything can be removed form your head, sorted into tasks, prioritized by what matters most to you and what you can get done given your current energy levels.

At the very least, try the brain dump technique. Getting things out of your head and forgetting about them is a huge stress reliever. I use it every day on a micro level by brain dumping a short list of two-to-five tasks to do that day, if I can. That’s all I think about when it comes to work for that day, the rest I leave for another day, so I don’t think about. If I do think of something, it gets brain dumped, ready to be put on a daily to-do list in the future.

Enjoy your day!

Yaro Starak
Brain Dumping

Photo courtesy of TEDxPioneerValley2012

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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47 Comments

  • I am trilled about this post. I will begin to implement some of the points to become a more effective person. Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Abayomi, let me know how you go implementing these ideas. It’s good to hear how people get practical results.

      Yaro

      • Hi Yaro, I personally have been a victim of what you just wrote about. I am no big entrepreneur but sleeping at nights is a problem because of some mind-bugling issues that i failed to dump on paper and prioritize. with this your instructions, i know i can now have good night rests. Thanks Yaro.

  • Jon

    The GTD method is great but I have always found it just a little to big of a system for my online projects.

    The 2 minute rule and the brain dump then prioritize are great tools at freeing up some extra RAM in the brain!

    However, the email management and number of required lists is more than my online projects require and they seem to slow me down whenever I tried to implement.

    Other than the brain dump what parts of the GTD system do you use all the time?

    • Hi Jon,

      Like I said in the article, and like you have mentioned here, I found GTD overkill for my needs.

      I like keeping notes in evernote, more so I don’t forget them, especially when I am studying something on the go.

      I really have a very simple process of work – a short to-do list of 3 to 10 tasks that I am working on each week. For example as I type this, my main moving forward task is editing some new interviews for a subscription product I am releasing next year. Once they are done, I have to finish the sales page draft ready for a copywriter to have at it.

      These are all steps to complete the product ready for sale, which is the top level to-do. It’s not that complicated, just keep doing a little towards it each day while maintain the status quo on my regular tasks like blogging, email and interviews.

      Yaro

  • Well, another useful and rich-information post, as usual, Yaro. I’ve followed your blog long time ago, and wait for every post you make. Thank you.

    These days there are so many things need to be learned and done, so many times I myself feel stress and full of buzz. Until I decided to change and learn to arrange my tasks following the GTD method. The productivity has increased and I feel not only happy but also confident about myself.

    Again, thank you for your post!

    • You are welcome Tony, and thanks for your long time readership, I really appreciate it.

  • Brain dump. Finally putting words to something I already do. I’m going to have to put the other steps into action as well.

    I really liked your statement about getting your first business related work done at 2 pm. That’s the best time of day to get anything done. And they wonder at my day job why I hate coming in at 8 am.

    Pen and paper work the best for me as well. Thought I may be switching to mobile devices. Getting sick of having random notebooks all over my apartment.

    Enjoyed the informative post as always. Looking forward to the products coming out.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I definitely agree that 8am can be tough to get work done, as I am often asleep then.

      That being said, if I have a hi-carb lunch, around 3 to 4pm I will crash, needing a nap, so 2pm isn’t always the best start time. I think lately I get some of my best work done from 10pm to midnight, a quick sprint before bed.

      Thanks for your feedback!

      Yaro

      • Hi Yaro,

        I concur with your point about getting work done so early in the morning. I think it’s a societal issue that has conditioned us to believe that’s when “work” should begin. I personally have tested different working times to see which is most productive and it too tends to be late at night when most are sleeping.

        I’d highly recommend testing it as with everything else.

        Another great post too!

  • Thanks Yaro

    This is a great and interesting post that is quite relevant to me.

    I’m developing my online business in its preliminary stages, building pre-eminence, trust and authority whilst preparing the content for my resource site… (though I’m finding relationship building and momentum very hard.)

    I enjoy using a couple of tools. One being a journal and the good old pen and paper. I’ve found this most affective for deeper thinking, and consistency is the key to its effectiveness.

    The second tool is one that I’ve picked up in a support group where we use “taking responsibility” for our actions as a route to seeing what’s really going on in a particular situation and moving beyond its shackles. This is great for the emotional difficulties that come along with building a business and dealing with procrastination and massive “to do lists.”

    Also, it’s great on a personal level where family and friendship struggles arise.

    Overall I love this informative post.

    Thank you

    Marcus Rockey

    • Hi Marcus,

      You definitely sound like you are the right track talking about preeminence, gaining momentum and authority. Assuming you are giving people unique and valuable information, using stories and reaching out to people who have your audience, it’s only a matter of time before you will have your own following, if you don’t already.

      I’m glad to hear you liked my post. Good luck with your project and keep us updated on how you are going.

      Yaro

  • Thanks Yaro,
    However, I think we need some time to take some positive points from your article and convert them to effective techniques, because (Just thinking) this post is not a sample for beginners.

    • It’s an introduction at the least Wesam. There are so many different productivity techniques and systems out there, so we are not short on options.

      The important question is are you getting what you want done and experiencing the results you want. If you are not and it’s been a while since you changed things up, now might be a good idea to assess your practices.

  • I have seen the benefit of BRAIN dumping. It certainly works.

    The hard part is remembering to do it some times so we make the most use of our time!

  • I appreciate taking the time to respond so thank you…

    I feel quite fortunate to have absorbed your membership site blueprint. You advise has certainly had a big impact. You caught my attention when talking about creating an email list now! Building relationships now! I set immediately to work.

    I am coached by Rich Shefren whom I know you have worked with in the past. His trainings are also fantastic but I didn’t quite catch the message of trust building until I subscribed with you.

    I am finding momentum difficult at the moment and a little unsure if the actions I am taking will have the “cause and effect” I desire.

    Will wait and see of course.

    Thanks once more for replying.

    Best wishes

    Marcus Rockey

    • That’s all you can do Marcus, wait and see. The good thing about the internet is how quick a response mechanism it is.

      Create, release, see what happens.

      Do it again, adjusting as you go until you get the result you want.

      It sound so simple, but obviously it’s not, there’s a lot of work required. Good luck and let us know if you pick up anything particularly insightful from Rich.

      Yaro

  • Hong Anh Vu

    Yaro, Thanks so much for articulating the importance of leveraging our energy and for sharing this new method. I am so glad that I am not the only one being upset with David Allan’s theory and system. His theory totally discounted us as human being with emotions and feelings, which change depending on the surrounding environment, which in turn affect how much of what we want to get done accomplished. What made me dislike him even more is how he or his VA ignored the fact that I no longer want to be on their mailing list. Anyway, I realize that this is not the place for me to attack Allan.

    I started to recognize the correlation between changing energy level and productivity when I was working on my thesis. Many of the people undergoing the same process shared my experience. Unfortunately, this is not a subject they teach in school. I bet I could have done things so differently and saved so much time had this been introduced to me sooner.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    • You’re welcome Hong.

      I definitely recommend you look into Tony Schwartz. He is all about learning how to recover, which is the least talked about part of productivity.

      I never feel guilty taking a nap or reading a book or watching video as a break from whatever work I have been doing. You can get more done of a higher quality by resting, as ironic as that sounds.

      Yaro

  • Hi Yaro,
    Great info that’s absolutely true.
    As someone who’s been involved in alternative healing for
    quite some time, your tip about the notebook (and now Evernote)
    are very helpful. Some other tips: Taking 30 to 40 mins. walks help
    put an end to the negative energy thoughts that plague you, as does praying out loud for a few mins. each day.
    And look into nutritional defiencies, like a poor diet,
    and not enough magnesium, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
    Hope this helps.

    • Thanks for the additional tips James. I’m a fan of chia seeds for my omega 3, and fish of course.

      Yaro

  • Great write up again Yaro. #1& 2 can sometimes be easy to do. I agree that #3 (mood & energy) is where the really issue is.
    It becomes more complicated when you have lots of other things running like having a day’s job along with your personal concerns. However, determination and a little more thought on how to prioritise your task and leverage your energy can make a huge difference on productivity.

    • You are right Lola, when you get busy finding the harmony is the real challenge. I think it’s especially challenging in traditional work places because the concept of balance and changing activities is not accepted. You have sit at the desk and do the same thing for 8 hours a day or you will be fired.

      There must be some work places that follow a more forward thinking methodology on productivity, although they are very likely in the minority.

      Yaro

  • Christopher

    Thank you Yaro,

    Wow–I needed this today. Perfect timing. I do the four hour work week every day, four times a day, six days a week. I’m tired and I put off reading your email about this post all day. I should’ve read it earlier!

    Thank you for adding value to our lives.

    Warmest,

    Chris

    • You are welcome Chris. I hope you can find a less tiring system soon.

      Yaro

  • Timely and uncannily spot on to what I needed to hear, Yaro. I love reading that you have a short to-do list, because my problem has always been that I overcommit, burn out and then get stalled as I recover (although only in my own projects. For some strange reason I prioritise and progress much better at work) Ditto with GTD. Getting through all my papers in the first stage of implementing it ended up becoming a monster project that never got 100% done either!

    I will DEFINITELY be giving this a go, and I’m looking forward to the “brain clearing” feeling afterwards. Thanks a million!

    • You are welcome Crystal. I find short to-do lists much easier to manage and that sense of achievement often comes quicker too, especially if you prioritise well.

  • Hi Yaro

    Excellent article!

    I couldn’t agree more – after spending the last 15 years working in nutrition, corporate wellness and OHS I have witnessed how the way we organise our lives has a big impact upon our health.

    Many of the strategies I saw that helped busy professionals were organisational skills and healthy living skills. So of course that is what I have helped my clients integrate into their lives because the only way to reduce everyday stressors, improve productivity etc, is to change the way we approach our time and energy. We can have all the time in the world, but if we don’t have the energy we are going no where fast!

    I love Tony Schwartz approach too and I use some of his key teachings with my clients (we focus on eating well, working well and living well). GTD is a full on approach even for me!! I think the most important thing is to recognise not every approach will work for us 100% – I always explain to my clients it is a co-creative process – you’ll get advice, but you have to modify it for who you are and how you instinctively behave when you’re stressed. If you build that into any system you implement, you can find your focus and know you are getting the RIGHT things done vs being busy (not the goal)!

    • It sounds like you found a great niche to focus on Louise. It must be great to see people change in so many different aspects of their lives, and help them pinpoint the areas where they are out of balance.

      It must be frustrating at times since most people do not easily adopt changes into their lives. I know it takes me a few goes to make something a habit unless I am really really motivated.

  • Rick Resch

    Hello Yaro,
    I myself write down everything on paper and keep it simple. One is a do-to list of the things that I have to accomplish each day and a spiral notebook of notes from books I’ve read, quotes from friends on Facebook from famous entrepreneurs, ideas for business, books I want to read, website addresses that I’ve copied down to visit, etc. Like you said, to get it out of your head and put it down somewhere. I browse through my old spiral notebooks sometimes to look at the old information to see what I’ve written down to maybe come up with new ideas. I try to record everything I do with business so I can learn from the past. I can’t sleep sometimes at night so I have to write it down before I can. A blog like yours is a great tool to have a chronological order of your thoughts in progression. I like your practical posts and your personal stories because they show who you are and how you think. I’m not much of a blogger, but I’m always trying to learn from other people and I’m looking for my next business venture. I thank you for this post and I look forward to your next one.

    • Thank you Rick, you are definitely one of my best comment makers here on EJ. I think it’s possibly a tie between you and Olga for most consistent, so I appreciate you a lot.

  • Henry Daquipel

    Thank you for this article Yaro. I totally agree with you. Personally, I use meditation to clear my head from clutter. It helps me to focus on the tasks that I need to prioritize. Brain Dump is an effective way to unload your mental baggage especially before sleeping.

    • Meditation is like the next level up Henry, though in my case I’m more likely to be able to meditate after a brain dump otherwise I’ll spend my time attempting to get into a meditative state on all the things I need to do instead!

  • Thanks for your many valuable resources,Yaro

  • Roy

    Hi Yaro,
    I always enjoy your posts. Thanks for exposing me to Tony Schwartz, very interesting!
    Roy

  • Pat

    Always good advice, Yaro. When I feel overwhelmed by all that has to be done, I find making lists and organizing and prioritizing keeps me sane. Simple steps, one after the other…

  • This is an amazing technique.

  • Hi Yaro, I really like your whole “Brain Dump” strategy. I was recently introduced to “Mind Maps”. Mind Maps were popularized by author and consultant, Tony Buzan.

    His theory of writing down your thoughts in an organised manner, not lists, would be more powerful and easier to recall. I actually use this theory when writing my pillar articles for my blog. Images and doodles can also aide the Mind Map “construction”.

    Regards
    Morgan

    • Hi Morgan, I think mind maps are great, but for some reason I’ve always preferred dot point lists for tasks, mind maps for construction of training products perhaps.

      It’s really a personal preference, though I have to admit that a mind map, especially with mind mapping software, looks more professional. You can even use them as a basis for a video teaching presentation – just your voice over and the mind map on the screen.

      Yaro

  • It’s definitely interesting to hear another blogger’s perspective on how to optimize the little time we do have to work on our businesses, Yaro.

    Since our recent move and overall lifestyle change, I found that I have even less time available to work on my blog.

    With that, I decided to prioritize all the tasks according to their bottom line.

    Will this particular task have a direct affect on how much money Traffic Generation Cafe makes in the upcoming month? That criterion pushes it up or down on my list.

    Right or wrong, we are in this business to make money and, when we engage in something that doesn’t directly get us there (like me taking my time with this comment – he-he), it’s out.

    By the way, I’ve had a lot of trouble with getting CrankyAds advertising lately, Yaro; any help would be appreciated.

    • That’s a great point Ana, the challenge with it though is trying to correlate tasks with money.

      For example, should I reply to these comments if they don’t make me money?

      I don’t get paid to make comments, but I do know that relationships and the good will that is generated towards me when I take care of my most active readers (people who leave comments for example), can lead to sales down the track. However I have no clue how important comment replies are since it’s difficult to correlate my efforts here with sales down the road. Unless someone tells me specifically they bought after I replied to a comment, then I have no clue.

      As for CrankyAds – we are working on increasing exposure for sites in the crankymart, which might bring new sponsors to you. In your case Ana I would also suggest playing around with price to figure out what the demand is.

      Yaro

  • [...] Yaro Starak | Entrepreneurs-Journey.com [...]

  • Hello, Yaro,
    Fantastic info for me, it’s really2 great.
    I begin to implement some of the points to my blog and information product that I sell on internet. Thanks a lot! Mr. Baim – Indonesian Blogger

  • Thanks for the great post. There appears to me a typographical error which I would like to bring to your notice: A beginner’s guide instead of beginners guide.

    • Sorry to have to tell you, Raj, but there’s not supposed to be an apostrophe in it. Apostrophe is for contractions (there-is = there’s) or possession (belongs to Rick = Rick’s). It’s not supposed to be used for a plural.
      I hope you don’t mind my correction, but you’ve hit on one of my own personal bug-bears. :)

  • [...] if Yaro Starak can read my mind because while reading one of his great articles on increasing his personal productivity, I stumbled across his article about working a 2 hour [...]

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