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.

It's okay if you're struggling

May and June are always hard months for me.

8 years ago this month, my little boy Ian was born. He died two days later from brain damage suffered during my pregnancy. I've changed a lot since then.

And every year, without fail, I have trouble keeping up with the duties in my business in the weeks leading up to his birthday. Blogging, client work, you name it. Sure, I do it - at least the most important stuff. But the joy isn't there.

Yeah, it's been a few weeks since I had a post up. It bothers me, but I just haven't been in the right frame of mind to come up with new topics.

Last year, I even had a migraine over his birthday - my first one ever. It happened to start in earnest about the time my labor started, and finally eased up about 24 hours later, just after his time of birth.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

The point of this post isn't to have you feel sorry for me. This is my life, and I accept it. The easy bits, the hard bits, and all the bits in between.

But it's occurred to me that hey, this is predictable. This happens Every. Year. So maybe I should plan for it a bit better next year.

For instance, write up a bunch of blog content to schedule over May & June, so that I don't keep putting off writing a new post when hard times come around. Maybe even get a few guest posts.

Struggling? You're not alone.

My point? If you know there's a certain time of year that you always struggle, don't fight it. Plan for it. Get some stuff done ahead of time so you have less to stress about while you're struggling. Outsource something. Drop something off your to-do list that isn't urgent.

And stop beating yourself up for struggling. We all go through hard times. And you do what you gotta to get through them.

The joy will come back - it always does. It'll just take a while, and that's ok.

How I'm writing my ebook

Yes, one of my goals for this year is writing my ebook! I plan to finish the first draft this month. See the end of the post for more on this.

But for now, here's what's working for me.

I started off really overwhelmed with how exactly to start writing my ebook! I mean, I used to write research papers in school, and creative writing assignments, and there was a process the teacher had us follow. But I didn't have a process for writing an ebook.

And I'm an ISTJ, so I need to follow a process, a recipe, or some kind of instructions.

I came across Mandi Ehman's course From Idea to Ebook which I think was exactly what I needed! It's only $37 USD so if you're similarly confused and overwhelmed, I highly recommend it. After going through the modules, writing my ebook seemed a lot more achievable.

Writing my ebook

The first thing I did was write out a list in a Word document of all the topics I want to cover in the book. I wanted to end up with a certain number, so I wrote plenty more than that number on my list. Some topics will get merged, and some I'll ditch altogether, before the final draft is ready.

I created a list on my ebook board of all my topics. Then I decided to split up all the different topics into groups with their own lists:

writing my ebook chapters

These lists will be the main information chapters of the book.

writing my ebook chapter

Then I started writing.

After I finished some of the subtopics, I decided I'd like a way to keep track of which ones I've finished and which ones I haven't. So I gave each finished topic a red label. I've done the same thing with the list of chapters as well, so I know how far through I am.

writing my ebook finished chapters

As I get further through the book, all those red labels keep me going. As an ISTJ, I'm very keen to finish things that I start, so being able to easily see how much is left is a huge motivator.

Now, I'm not done writing my ebook yet, so I'm sure I'll learn more along the way. One day I'll write another blog post about the rest of the process. :-)

Homeschooling and Home Business 101

I'm a part of several Facebook groups for small biz owners. I'm noticing more and more are homeschooling! This is great, because I'm homeschooling my kids too. It's good to be in contact with others who are doing homeschooling and home business.

It's a lot to have on your plate, for sure - homeschooling and home business. So some planning and forethought is definitely required!

If you're on the fence about whether to send your kids to school or homeschool them, here are three words to bear in mind.

Simplicity. My husband and I have decided that for the most part, we'll focus on the three R's, and let everyday life and the kids' interests take care of the rest. Because when a child can read, they can learn about whatever they want through reading about it. If they can read and do basic arithmetic, they can get by quite well in society.

The workbooks we've decided on for our boys are things that they can do on their own. Sometimes they'll ask for help, and that's okay! We don't expect them to know everything, because they're learning. But when you have multiple children, a home business to run, and the regular home upkeep, it's good that they can work on their own for the most part.

Flexibility. This is important, because no two days are the same. Some days you'll have a sick kid, or an excursion (field trip). Sometimes you'll decide to go on holiday (vacation) during the normal school term - because you can! And those days when you have meet-ups with other homeschooling families, and take care of that thing that non-homeschoolers always worry about - socialisation!

And then some days, you just need a mental health day, and tell the kids to watch TV.

Rhythm. Sort of like a schedule, but not as strict! Our rhythm most days means schoolwork & chores in the morning, then lunch, then kids on their computers while I work in my office. My husband's work start times are different each day, so sometimes we'll have lunch at 12, and other days not till 1:30 or 2. But regardless of the actual time that everything happens, it happens in a certain order most days. This way, we all know what to expect, and everything gets done.

Often, I'll do some work in my office after the kids are in bed. Or if I'm still getting the baby to sleep, I'm on the couch watching Buffy. ;-)

And we try to keep to this rhythm during the school holidays, too - although without so much book work!

So this is how we do homeschooling and home business.

Are you homeschooling? How do you do it?

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?

How to get started on your to-do list

The best way to get started on your to-do list is just to start.

It sounds so simple, but it's true!

But you're still asking 'HOW? Because my to-do list is a mile long and I have no idea where to start!'

Okay. I hear you. I've been there, and I've got some tips for you.

Step one - write down everything.

Yes - everything. Everything you need to do - biz related, housework related, everything you can think of that you need or want to do, write it down in a list. You can use pen and paper, whiteboard, an online tool - whatever works for you.

This is always my first step when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I write down absolutely everything I can think of that needs to get done.

Why do I start by writing everything down, when I could just start one of the things on the list already? Because usually, I have a million things running around in my head bumping into each other and causing me stress. Once I've written them all down, my mind is a lot clearer, and I can look at things objectively to come up with a game plan.

Try it. Even if you're not usually a List Person like I am, give it a go and see how it feels.

Once you've written out your to-do list, then you can decide how to approach it. Do you want to tackle the quick, easy tasks first, so you feel like you're achieving a lot? Can you delegate some of these tasks to other members of your family or your team?

I don't know about you, but I LOVE crossing things off my to-do list. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, even if I'm only crossing off a couple of easy things! Then I have momentum to get the rest of it done.

If you're still feeling overwhelmed after you have a written to-do list, I'd love for you to download my free e-book, Overcoming Overwhelm. You can sign up for it right at the bottom of this post, and I guarantee the five steps I talk about will bring clarity and peace.

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. :-)

Social anxiety and home business: you CAN do it!

People have different reasons for starting their own biz. Some get sick of working to line someone else's pockets. Some want to be home with their kids. Others may have health or family issues that require them to be available at a moment's notice.

Why did I start my own business? Because I have social anxiety, and if I want to work, I don't have a choice.

Let me give you a bit of back story.

I grew up in the United States. I had various jobs there, in various places. Never had trouble getting hired for a job, even though I suffered from social anxiety and selective mutism.

Then I moved to Australia, and it was totally different.

Nobody wanted to hire me. Nobody. They thought my not speaking was just too hard to deal with - even if I could do the job!

I put my resume in at every employment agency I could find. And I can count on one hand the number that contacted me after. But as soon as they found out I couldn't speak, they just didn't contact me again.

I tell you, it was a serious blow to my confidence. I couldn't understand why nobody would hire me - even for menial jobs like washing dishes or cleaning offices. It's not like I was applying for jobs where I'd have to answer phones.

Eventually, one of the employment agencies offered me a job. But after a week, they told me the work had 'dried up' and passed on my case to a different office.

So I gave up on sending out resumes and applying for jobs through the paper. I resigned myself to never having a job in Australia.

I was able to get a couple of cleaning jobs through people I knew. The work was dull, but at least I was doing something, and earning some money, even if it wasn't much. And I was never going to get promoted to anything else in either job.

Then, after my son was born, I started my nappy business. I realised that if I sold my products online, social anxiety didn't matter. And so I started building my biz, and grew more and more confident.

Every sale gave me a boost. Even the little ones.

I realised that a home biz is perfect for someone with social anxiety.

It means I get to decide when - or if - I meet with people in person or ring them on the phone. And I can prepare mentally for it.

So tell me this. Are you, like me, frustrated at the lack of results in finding traditional employment? You don't have to take it lying down.

Do you know you do good work, but every rejection and every time you only hear silence from employers, feels like a punch in the gut?

You're not alone. And you don't have to keep doing it.

If I can start my own business - an introvert, with social anxiety, and selective mutism - then so can you.

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!

Kids and home biz: Bringing them together

Did you start your home biz so you could be home with your kids? I'm betting you did. It's a common reason for starting a home biz.

But do you feel sometimes like you're spending more time in your office, sewing room, or workshop than you spend with your kids? And you're not sure how to get that balance back?


Most blog posts about this topic say things like you need to set boundaries, or your work will overtake the rest of your life. And delegate tasks to a virtual assistant, so you spend the most time on what earns you money, and less on things that don't. Both of which are true! But what about a solution a little outside the box?

What about involving your kids in your biz?


Put yourself in your child's shoes. Every morning (or afternoon, or evening - whatever time you work at home) your mum or dad goes off into this room of the house that you're not allowed into. They shut the door, and for a couple hours, you don't see them.

They could be doing anything in there! What if it's fun, and they're not letting you in on it? What do they do in there by themselves?

Kids are curious. Just think of all those awkward questions they've asked you in public. They love to learn new things, and to show how competent they are.

What if, instead of locking yourself away every day, you brought them in to help you once in a while? This way, they get to see what you're doing, and spend time with you while you do it.

How your kids can get involved in your biz

  • Modeling children's clothing

  • Product testing (toys, books, other children's items)

  • Packing orders & going to the post office (I know mine love putting things in the postbox!)

  • Stuffing envelopes

  • Unpack & help put away new stock

  • Stocktake - ask them to count how many of a certain item

Older kids, of course, can help in more advanced ways. They often want payment for their services, however. ;-) Younger kids are usually happy enough to just help Mum or Dad with whatever they're doing.

Do your kids help out with your biz? In what ways?

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