Nothing Doesn't Go In Here

On Episode 247 of Back To Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussed how to take control of your paper journals and notebooks. Free yourself from the tyranny of the clean, empty notebook! Merlin makes specific reference to the philosophy behind Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. What an absolutely brilliant idea!

Merlin talks in detail about his daily 'Morning Dump' concept, one of his many uses for his notebook. I realise that this is not a prescriptive lesson in how you should brain-dump-like-merlin, but merely provides a starting point in thinking about what might work for you while sorting out the mess that is Life.

Strategies such as these must be combined with other productivity tools and techniques to develop an individual approach to your 'Work' that suits your style. There's no point in blindly following someone else's processes without reflecting upon whether it will help you too.

That being said, there's no harm in trying something new and continuously improving your own established techniques.

Merlin Mann's Morning Dump


A fresh Morning Dump page is split into four quadrants:

  • Projects
  • Tasks
  • Shopping List
  • Things on My Mind

But first things first, write the day and the date on the page for context. Or, if you're fully inspired by the Wreck This concept, consider an actual part of a date..

On the top left-hand corner, Merlin describes building a list of projects; areas that need attention today. Simply using nouns or abbreviations here focuses the concepts, and may give rise to other nouns - leading towards a need for planning elsewhere, and verbs - which could be convertable into tasks on a task list. You might also find there's a lot more projects in the back of your mind than you realise.

The top right-hand corner contains the task list, driven by the verbs brought to the surface from the project list. Here specicifity is key in having acheivable, tickable tasks (I love being able to draw checkboxes for each of my todos and tick 'em off as I get them done!).

These projects and tasks may also give rise to a 'shopping list' of items - though Merlin doesn't discuss this in depth, I believe that the intention is that this list is of things that need to be retrieved from somewhere else. Not just food for dinner, but perhaps things you need to buy, download, pickup, or create in order to get things done to satisfy the tasks and projects. This list is written on the bottom right-hand corner from the bottom up, leaving the middle of the page open - reducing the stress of trying to work out how far down the page to start! Clever, Mr Mann...

The bottom left-hand corner is reserved for personal things that are 'on my mind' or 'I'd like to do'. Kind of like your wishlist, non-projecty things that are still important to you. Taking a nap, getting some exercise, practising your Italian, etc. Some of these might give rise to tasks that you can do today, others might just feel good to write down and wallow in your subconcious until you ask yourself 'whats stopping you from starting this?'.

Finally, the middle of the page is there for your entertainment - draw, doodle, paste or tape random things onto the page. Wreck it!

My Thoughts

There is no doubt that getting your projects, tasks and ideas down on paper helps to clarify and organise your thoughts. This is a core concept of David Allen's Getting Things Done. There has been much research into the cognitive benefits of act of writing, namely, how it can slow down an otherwise overwhelmed brain to focus on what is being written about.

Using a process like this daily will focus and streamline your thoughts about projects and tasks. It is one process in a larger system of managing your workload and productivity, but as a morning ritual engaging your focus and mindfulness it would no doubt hold benefits in its own right.

Next time you sit down with your coffee, consider taking a morning dump!