Brain Dump: The best way to get things out of your head

Counting down to the official launch of Piece of Cake: 42 Simple Systems For Your Business in 3 weeks! Today I’m sharing an excerpt from the first chapter, on how to do a brain dump for better productivity. Enjoy, and I hope you take away something useful!

So the first thing I want you to do when you’re thinking about new systems for your biz is a brain dump.

“But what the heck is a brain dump?” you ask.

Well, the term is often used in computing circles to mean a complete transfer of information from one place to another. But the other type of brain dump – popularised by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done – is simply writing out everything that’s in your head, on paper.

Yes, I said on paper. Or whiteboard, blackboard, chalk on the driveway – whatever floats your boat. But write it out by hand.

Why write by hand? Because there’s something about the act of writing down your thoughts that helps to clarify things. I know this from my own experience. I can have a hundred things bouncing around in my head and feel totally overwhelmed, but as soon as I write it all down, it feels manageable. Even though I haven’t actually accomplished anything, I feel like now I CAN accomplish something.

And I reckon it’ll be the same with you. So go ahead. Grab your writing implement of choice and something to use it on, and do a brain dump.

After the Brain Dump

How are you feeling now? A little less stressed? Or are you more stressed, looking at that huge list of things you have to do?

Don’t worry. You don’t have to do it all at once, and to be totally honest, you don’t even have to do all of it yourself. I guarantee it.

The next step is to look at that list and organise it a little. Which tasks have a deadline? Which ones can you combine, or do in quick succession (such as errands)? Which ones can you delegate to someone else?

You can go crazy with different coloured highlighters (my favourite), put different bullets next to different categories of tasks, or create separate lists of tasks.

(Side note: I just did a mini-brain dump whilst writing this chapter. I wrote down four things that I was thinking about so I can remember to do them later, rather than stopping writing the book to do them now and losing my momentum!)

Once you’ve sorted your items into different categories or lists, it’s time to get to work on them. Go with the most urgent things first – like finding paperwork for a meeting you’re having tomorrow morning – and leave non- urgent things for later.

Which things did you decide to delegate? If you haven’t delegated anything, go back to the list and find something that someone else can do. Don’t argue with me! Just do it. You’ll thank me later.

Look, I know how tempting it is to try to do everything yourself. I’m kind of a DIY-er too. So I totally get the percieved extra hassle and cost to delegating or outsourcing tasks. Just ask me how long it took to finally get a house cleaner!

We’ll talk more about this in chapter 7, but trust me – you need to delegate some part of your list to someone else. You just can’t do it all on your own. Nobody can.

Before long, you’ll be crossing things off that list like there’s no tomorrow. And doesn’t it feel SO GOOD when you cross something off? It kinda makes you want to write down more things just so you can cross them off, too!

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Surviving the newborn period as a homeschooling WAHM

So I had a baby a month ago. Almost exactly, in fact – Micah will be one month old tomorrow. We are well and truly in the middle of the newborn period.

I have two older boys as well, age 5 and 9 1/2. We homeschool. And I run my own business from home.

That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly feels like it some days! And I knew it was going to be a huge adjustment having another baby, so I made some plans ahead of time for how to get through the newborn period without completely losing my mind.

How I’m surviving the newborn period as a homeschooling WAHM

  • Babywearing. When the baby only wants Mum, but Mum needs to do something other than just hold the baby before she tears her hair out, babywearing is awesome. While babywearing my three boys, I’ve been able to play computer games, work on my website, wash dishes, put on a load of laundry (and hang it after), walk around the shops with a shopping trolley, use my sewing machine, cook dinner – and that’s just the beginning. I’ve heard that some anthropologists believe the baby sling was the first human invention, and it’s easy to see why. It’s useful not only during the newborn period, but for the months to come – as long as your back is strong enough to carry your child!
  • My kids are, by and large, on school holidays. I told Caleb, my 9 year old, that when the baby came he’d get a break from his schoolwork. The newborn period is a time when pretty much everything else falls by the wayside, so I expected that we wouldn’t be up for checking his work and reminding him to do it every day. Instead, I’ve told Caleb that he can do his workbooks one day a week, and he can choose which day that is.

    Chuckie, our five-year-old, is learning how to read and doing his first mathematics workbook. He’s still excited about these things, so he grabs his maths book whenever he feels like doing some work (about 2-3 times a week). A friend of mine, who has homeschooled her eight children, said that right from the start, she chose workbooks that her kids could do mostly on their own. This has proved to be a useful strategy for me too, even though I don’t have as many kids as she does!

  • I let my clients know that I was going on maternity leave, and to expect I’d be out of action for at least a few weeks. I’m also not taking on any new clients at the moment, because it’s too much at this time. Right now, I need to focus on getting to know my baby and recovering from the pregnancy & birth. Everything else can wait.
  • Online grocery shopping. Actually, I’ve been using this one since I was about 35 weeks pregnant. It’s so much easier to have a Coles delivery driver carry your heavy groceries into the house than having to do it yourself. Sure, it costs a bit more, but the extra I pay for the delivery is less money that I’m paying for chiropractic adjustments from overdoing it.
  • Accept help from whoever offers it. I know – a lot of us have trouble accepting help, myself included. I hate being dependent on anyone. But you simply can’t do it all on your own, so whoever offers to babysit your older kids, bring you meals so you don’t have to cook, clean your house – let them.
  • Disposable everything. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this one, but as I’m writing this, we’re using disposable nappies and disposable plates in our house. It’s just easier at the moment. When things settle down a bit more, Micah will be back in the cloth nappies (love my Seedling, Baby Beehinds, and Cushie Tushies nappies!), and we’ll use our standard dishes again.
  • Packaged food and take-away. Yeah, this one too. Today we had chicken nuggets for lunch. About half our meals at the moment are frozen packaged things that are easy to prepare – because inevitably, the baby is always hungry when Mum is ready to cook.
  • Giving the older kids more responsibility. The 9 year old is getting really good at doing laundry, preparing food, and washing dishes. The 5 year old checks the letterbox every day, puts dishes away, and helps Dad empty the bins every week. Older kids can do a lot more around the house than most people give them credit for.
  • Whenever I feel up to cooking, I make a double batch and freeze half. This gives us an extra meal we can warm up quickly if we’re having a crap day. Or, depending on the meal, it gives us leftovers that the big kids can grab for their own meals over the next few days.
  • I only do one big thing a day. If I go out shopping, I ONLY go out shopping. If I do housework, I ONLY do housework. I don’t try to go to several different shopping centres on the same day and then do three loads of washing and wash dishes when I get home – that would result in certain disaster.
  • Whenever I’m able to put the baby down, I have a list of priorities. The first thing on this list is go to the toilet. After this is eating, drinking, showering – and further down the list is any kind of housework. This ensures that I look after myself before I do anything else. Putting on my own oxygen mask first, so to speak.
  • Well. That was a bit longer list than I was anticipating writing, but I think you get the idea!

    What other things would you add to this list, or do differently in the newborn period?

Written procedures: the painless method

You’ve probably heard lots of business bloggers talk about how important written procedures are. I know I have. And honestly, as good an idea as it sounds, it also sounds like a lot of work!

But I realised it doesn’t have to be. Here’s the method I use to develop written procedures for my biz.

First, I write down each step that I can remember in a text document. Yes, I’m a bit forgetful at times – isn’t everyone? As I go through the list of steps, other steps that I’ve left out will come back to me, and I’ll stick them in where they belong.

I’ll re-read the list, and check that I’ve put in everything. If I’ve missed something, I’ll add it in.

Then, the next time I’m doing that particular task, I’ll keep that file open on my desktop while I’m doing it. This allows me to a) remember what order to do things in, and b) add in any notes that I couldn’t when I was writing the procedure in the first place.

I can also add in any ‘if this happens, then do that’ comments for certain steps. For instance, if my client’s web hosting doesn’t use cPanel, I’ll have a different procedure for installing WordPress than if cPanel was available.

Every time I do the task from that point on, I refer to the list I made at the beginning. Each time, I not only follow the list of steps, but I also add any changes or comments to the file for next time.

Sure, setting up written procedures takes a bit of effort at the start. But the time you spend on doing it will save you time in the long run.

But why?

What if you need to take on an employee? Or you’re going on maternity leave, and someone needs to take over for you for a few weeks? Wouldn’t it be easier to direct them to your written procedures than having to explain everything yourself?

I thought so. 🙂

How to work with kids in the house

Kids make things interesting. And when you run a handmade biz, you have a lot of supplies that they can make a mess with, or hurt themselves with.

You’re not just sitting at a computer typing all day. You’re using scissors, needles, hot glue guns, possibly even toxic chemicals if you’re a soap maker.

But you NEED to make your product, or you’ll be out of business! So what do you do when it’s not desirable – or safe – for your kids to be around your work?

It may look daunting at first, but I know some of these tips will help you work out how to work with kids in the house.

How to work with kids in the house

  • Work when they’re sleeping. This one’s the most obvious, and the one that I’m guessing a lot of you already use. Get up early, go to bed late, or work through their naps.
  • Work when they’re out of the house. My husband took our kids to a playground this afternoon to give me a break. So I’m writing this blog post while they’re away. 🙂 In the past, I used these times to sew my nappies, work on websites, do bookkeeping, and whatever other biz tasks I need to work on.
  • Work when someone else is there to look after them. These would be times when your kids are at school, kindy/preschool, or with a friend or relative. Are you lucky enough to have parents or parents-in-law close by who will look after your kids? By all means, seize the opportunity!
  • Put your baby/toddler in a carrier on your back. If you have a baby or toddler, sometimes you can get work done with them riding on your back. They’re out of your way, and bigger ones can even see what you’re doing – without getting their little fingers into your work! This is an especially good tactic if you have a clingy one who’s teething or just needs some extra time with Mum.

    I used a handmade wrap based on a Hug-a-Bub, a handmade Mei Tei, and an Ergobaby carrier. But you can use whatever carrier you like!

Do you have any other ideas on how to work with kids in the house? Please share with the rest of us!