Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
When it comes to time management, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do you dump your state?” Meaning, how do you dump what's on your mind to a place you trust, and how do you pick up where you left off?
Time management tips #14 is dump your state. Dumping your state helps you pick back up where you left off, and it frees your mind to focus on the tasks at hand. It also helps you move up the stack. After all, if your mind is filled with little unclosed loops, you are not at your most resourceful and creative best.
When you have baggage of the brain, it's tough to focus. Your mind is busy circling back on the loops it hasn't closed. It's also buzzing endlessly in the background to remind you of the things you should not forget. All the mental chatter gets in the way of you having peace of mind, clarity of thought, and focused attention ... right here, right now.
That's one scenario of why dumping your state matters.
Another scenario where dumping your state matters is when we want to pick up from where we left off. We spend all day working on a problem, building up state, but then we can't finish, so we have to park if for the day. The problem is we want to be able to pick back up the next day, from where we left off. Worse, sometimes we can't pick up back up the next day, and then all the state we built up starts to rot on the shelf of our minds, or decays in some place that we may never find again.
So what can you do?
It's very simple, and I call it brain dumps or "Session Dumps." To do a “Session Dump”, just dump what's on your mind, down onto paper or onto a page, using your favorite system. For me, sometimes this is an email that where I will dump my whiteboard fast, or I use Onenote to dump, or I use EverNote to dump plain text. In most scenarios, I have notepad open on my desktop, and I constantly dump to it ... so instead of little insights or actions floating in my head, they are jotted down to where I can see and organize them.
It might seem like an endless list in your mind, but you’ll be surprised that the more you dump, the less it is. It gets faster too. And thinking on paper is powerful. When you see the list in front of you, you may very quickly realize what you can let go, and what you really need to hold on to.
Here's the real trick though. Since I do this daily, I found that the best approach is to simply "dump state" to a clean sheet each day, and to name it the current date. For example, for today, I would title my Session Dump as follows:
Naming my Session Dump by date means I never need to figure out a good title, and by keeping all of my dumps in one folder, it's easy for me to always find them. I use that simple format because I can easily flip through in sequence.
I have to let a lot of things go, so I can focus on the best opportunities and challenges that lie before me. Time is always changing what’s important. Having a rapid way to dump state or pick up where I left off is a big deal. Now I never have to wonder where I dumped straggling ideas, or things that were percolating on my mind.
At the end of the day, dump your state before you go home and see how much it frees you up.
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