The Treps

The More Ideas You Have the Harder It Is to Know What to Do Next

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One thing we know about how superstar entrepreneurs work is that they decide when they begin their day what they are committed to doing with that day.

Not that they know everything they’re going to do, just that they’re committed to doing what is most important.

What’s on your commitment list for today? If you’re like most of us, your brain just exploded with a deafening chorus of “Pick me! Pick me!”

Related: How to Prioritize When Everything Is a Priority

Because you have no shortage of things you should do, could do, want to do, even things you must do or the sky will surely fall. So what usually happens is that you do what most direly needs doing, followed by whatever seems most attractive, followed by whatever the loudest person in your life is besieging you to do.

I know this, not only because I work with entrepreneurs, but because I am one. Guilty of all of the above.

What saves me is something I call the “brain dump.”

The human brain is highly specialized and compartmentalized. But it doesn’t function well when you try to use two compartments at once.

I think it’s a little like my espresso machine. It does a great job of grinding beans, heating water, moving that water through the ground and compressed beans, and finally producing a beautiful cup of espresso with just the right amount of crema on top. It also does a great job of producing steam to froth milk. It even does a great job of spitting out water that is the perfect temperature for an Americano. What it doesn’t do is to perform more than one those three functions at once.

My brain does a great job of coming up with innovative ideas. It also does a great job of keeping a running list of all things I have to do to avoid the end of the world as I know it. It even does a great job of creating project plans and setting priorities. What it doesn’t do is to perform those three functions at once.

Related: The Truth About Multitasking: How Your Brain Processes Information

So I get a crazy, captivating, cannot-stop-staring-at-in-wonder kind of idea and oops, there went my list of things I have to do to avoid the end of the world as I know it. And priorities, ha! Those just slipped out the door and into the park to play.

Or I buckle down to crank through my mental list of “must dos” or to focus on one thing and only one thing, and oops, there went that once in a lifetime idea that could have made me an overnight success.

A brain dump is not a brain storm. Brainstorms are what you do to come up with ideas. Brain dumps are what you do when you’ve got more ideas, tasks and plans than you can possibly handle.

The best time of day to “dump” varies based on your natural energy. For me, and for most entrepreneurs, it’s a great morning exercise because we wake up with all those ideas, tasks and plans clamoring for attention. But some of my clients use it as a reset during the day, or as a close-of-day ritual.

The process is simple. You grab a notebook or pull up a document and you record every single thing that comes to mind. In no particular order, you write down everything you should do, could do, want to do and especially the things you must do or the sky will surely fall. Just write it as it comes to you, using as few words as possible.

At first your mind is going to want to chase a few of those ideas. Or you’ll have the urge to go check on that deadline right now. Don’t. Write until you can’t think of one more thing to put on that list.

It’s like waiting until you hear those grounds being dumped inside the mysterious mechanism of the espresso machine. Your brain will tell you when it’s finished with that phase and ready for the next.

The next phase, of course, is to sort through what you dumped on the page. You probably have a system in mind already. This uses the judgment centers of your brain, and your task is to choose your commitments for one day. Everything else on the list is for another day.

So what happens when that crazy, captivating, cannot-stop-staring-at-in-wonder kind of idea pops up now? You add it to your brain dump list.

What happens when you get distracted and need to get back on task? You look at your commitments for the day.

What happens when you need to decide on your commitment list for tomorrow? You consult your brain dump.

How often will you need to add to your brain dump? It depends on how many ideas, tasks and plans your brain is generating.

The key is to empty the backlog frequently, freeing up the other centers of your brain to judge, prioritize and implement. Because your brain can produce the perfect solution, just like my faithful machine can produce the perfect latte -- but only if you stop asking it to do everything at once.

Related: How Your Brain Really Works (Interactive Graphic)