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There was a time where I felt very overwhelmed with a complex project. Pretty much every day, it felt like there was too much stuff to do and too little time to get things done.
And if it weren’t because of one simple strategy, I don’t know where I would be today.
My goal was to redesign my website, but that task had lots of moving parts. My website design wouldn’t be live if it wasn’t because of this little thing.
Maybe you have a critical project too. But it’s so daunting that you feel paralyzed. You don’t know where to start.
And the good news is you can apply it to any project you’re feeling overwhelmed about. Today, I’m gonna show you a method you can use right away to fight overwhelm and regain your clarity.
When it comes to big projects, you may already have a vague idea of what you need.
I know this happened to me:
- I kinda knew what to do mentally, but your list just felt endless
- I didn’t know what to do first, so I tried to do it all at once
- And sometimes, I was so confused that I didn’t want to do it. Procrastination was a common escape for that overwhelm
And this is just a horrible feeling. Nothing is more frustrating than worrying about a project you can’t start.
And to solve that problem, you first need to understand WHY you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Why you feel so overwhelmed
Being overwhelmed simply means to have a full brain. I’ve found that when all my thoughts are disorganized, I felt unclear on what to do next. And the default response to that is to either procrastinate or do nothing.
That’s when I stumbled with the obvious solution. If I wanted more clarity, I had to dump out every thought that was bothering my brain. Only after emptying those thoughts, I could think clearly about the ones I actually needed. As soon as I did that, I felt crystal clear again.
And this is called a brain dump. All you need is a piece of paper and a few minutes a day.
The process looks like this:
- You first define how the finished project will look like
- You then break it down into smaller goals
- You make a list of every task that’s in your head
If you follow this video, you’ll solve your overwhelm just like I did to finish the website. And by the end of the exercise, I gained clarity with three powerful tools.
- I had a list of every task I wanted to do
- I created a plan that showed when to do each thing
- And I knew the exact task I had to do at right that moment
After that, all I needed to think about was that little task. The overwhelm was gone.
- I knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it
- There was still lots of work to do, but it felt ten times lighter
- And whenever I wanted to start another big project, things went just as smooth
If you’re wondering what the first step is, it all starts with knowing what you want. And once you know the What, it’s easier to find out the How.
#1 Define your project goal
When I decided to redesign my website, it started with a bunch of ideas of things I had to do, and that felt overwhelming. So I asked myself: What would this project look like once I finish it? And that instantly made everything clear.
Suddenly, I didn’t have to do everything I was thinking about. I only had to do the things that lead to that result. And the more specific I was on that result, the easier it was to know what to do and what not to do.
So I grabbed a piece of paper and described how the complete website would look like:
- What images it should have
- What colors and fonts I wanted
- How many sections it needed to have
- What each page should go about
- How the pop-ups should work
All that stuff.
And that’s when I changed the way I looked at the project. It wasn’t just to redesign the website but to create the pages, choose the design style, and organize the media.
I didn’t have one gigantic goal anymore. Instead, I had turned it into three smaller goals, so it became easier to manage.
What I did so far was the following:
- Ask what the project would look like when finished and
- Break it down into three smaller goals
That made it easy to understand what I was trying to do. But I hadn’t done anything yet, because I didn’t know how to achieve those goals. So that became the next step of the exercise: make a list of everything you need to do.
#2 Write down your to-do list
I didn’t know what to do, so took another paper and wrote down every possible thing I could do. I wrote and wrote until every thought I had appeared on that paper. And when I finished, all my worries were on that list. It wasn’t an abstract thought anymore. Everything was exposed in a visual format.
But creating the list wasn’t easy. I really struggled with this exercise, because I wasn’t sure of what to add. Among the confusion, I came up with one question.
I asked myself how I would work if the project were EASY. I wanted to know the simplest way to get to the finish line. And it turned out to be a smart move.
Because I’m a very ambitious person. I have high standards when I work. And although it sounds like a good thing, it can also be a weakness.
When I was designing the website, I started simple. But according to my expectations, a big project had to come from big efforts. The simple plan felt too easy, so I overcomplicated things. Once I realized my mistake, I made that question, and it helped me get out of this trap.
So I kept writing on the list until it became too long. The time frame I gave myself for the project was months long but definitely not long enough to fit everything from that list. Now that I knew what to do, I needed speed.
So I asked myself how I would work if I had to finish the website in one week. I had to figure out how to pack six months into seven days without working crazy hours. And naturally, that made me think twice about what tasks were actually important.
Everything that didn’t move the needle didn’t make it to my list. And that’s how I filtered out the fluff.
Up until this point, what I did was asking the right questions and listing all the tasks that could help me complete the project:
- Think how you’d work if the project were easy
- How you’d organize if the project were due in a week, and
- With that in mind, create a list with all the tasks you can think of
Creating this list certainly was better than nothing. But that wasn’t enough to regain my clarity.
- I divided my big goal into three parts
- And I created a long to-do list
I needed to find a way to connect both and make them actionable. That’s why I reviewed the list and compared it with my project goals.
#3 Map out your project goals
I didn’t have the time nor the mental energy to tick boxes off an endless list. It was so long that I was very close to giving up. The good news is, I didn’t have to do everything from that list.
Like I said at the beginning of the video, all that matters are the tasks that get the project done.
So I reviewed my list with the three goals in mind. For each item, I asked myself if finishing that task would make progress towards some of those goals. If task number 15 helped with goal number 2, I would write that task below the goal.
Some tasks didn’t contribute to any of my goals. So I didn’t add them to my plan but I kept them on the list in case I needed them later.
Once I went through all the items, my plan had taken shape. Now, each of the three goals had a list of tasks below them. So I had one column for Creating Pages, another one for Design Style, and another for Organizing Media.
I did take care of the list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those tasks will achieve my goals.
Just to make sure, I looked at each column and wondered whether it’s enough to meet the objective. If it’s a No, I’d research and try to find out what else I should do.
So the overall process looked like this:
- Create one column for each of your goals
- Review your to-do list. If it helps to achieve one goal, copy that task under that column
- For each column, ask yourself if the tasks you listed are enough to achieve the goal. If something’s missing, find out what else you can do
And this changed the way I looked at my project. It’s no longer an endless to-do list. I just need to choose one of the three goals and do the tasks listed below.
By this point, I felt really close to understanding my project. But I forgot a tiny detail. When planning from the final result, those steps need to connect with the present, or it doesn’t work. It should be something small enough to get done in a day.
#4 Make it actionable
I had the plan, but I didn’t have the How yet. So I reviewed the tasks I added to each column. If a task was too long, abstract, or complex, I’d break it down into one-day tasks. And after I did that with every item, the project became clearer than ever.
That was it. I had everything figured out. Everything except for one question: where to start.
So I read my three goals and chose the most important column. From here, I highlighted the three most critical tasks for that goal. And with that last step, my overwhelm disappeared. That’s where the brain dump magic happened.
So it was:
- Convert all your tasks to one-day tasks
- Pick the most important goal and
- Highlight the three critical tasks for that goal
As for why I chose three, it was for efficiency. If I can’t do Task 1 for some reason today, at least I can work on Task 2 or 3 in the meantime.
The point is: I only have a few things to worry about and not a hundred. And to keep it this way, it’s vital to keep updating the plan.
#5 Update the plan
Brain dumps work because the brain relies on the notes I take. But if I stop reviewing this data, it will stop working and I’ll feel confused again. Because the brain cannot trust an outdated source.
The good news is, the maintenance is far simpler than the setup.
After finishing those tasks, it’s very common to find other ideas that I missed on the first brain dump. So on the next one I do, I add that task to the list and see if it makes sense in my plan.
So after I finished my three tasks, I came back to the plan to pick another three. I repeated the process until the first goal was complete, then I moved to the other two.
It all comes down to:
- Creating the plan
- Updating the list and
- Choosing three tasks
And before I knew it, I had redesigned most of my website.
Brain Dump: The Benefits
It’s crazy how simple things can become with such a simple strategy. It took some time to set up, but not nearly as much as the time I’d have wasted if I were still overwhelmed.
That’s how brain dumps have helped me finish the website, and how they’ve made big projects fun again. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel excited. Because I know what to do and how to do it.
And now, you know how to use brain dumps to do it for your projects. It’s the magic of making complex projects simple, or at least saves you lots of headaches.
If you liked this video, you’ll also like this other video where I talk about smart decisions. Doing too much can be overwhelming, especially when you get poor results. But if you improve the quality of your decisions, you’ll improve the quality of your work.