How to Do a GTD® Mind Sweep

A step-by-step guide to getting a grip on your current realities

David Allen
Sep 30 · 4 min read
Photo courtesy of the author.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. Doing a Mind Sweep allows you to get things out of your head and into your GTD system.

If you are like most people, you have a lot on your mind: things that need to be captured and written down. The truth is, you should be writing down anything that has your attention, including:

  • Things you have committed to doing
  • Things you want to do
  • Things you are thinking about doing
  • Creative ideas that you don’t want to slip away

When you write these down, you get them out of your head and onto paper, and into your “In.” You are also likely to find that doing a Mind Sweep simply makes you feel better. Your mind is free and clear. There is no longer anything that you are trying to remember to do or that you’re worried you might forget.


Mind Like Water

Imagine having a completely clear mental space, with nothing unproductive pulling or pushing on you. You could dedicate 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, with no distractions. You would be present. You would be mindful. The control of your attention would be available to you, without distraction.

“Mind Like Water” is the experience of being in which your mind is clear and you are capable of freely focusing on what you want. You are ready for anything. The GTD methodology overall is designed to get you there, and especially in this move: empty your mind with a Mind Sweep regularly.

All illustrations courtesy of the author.

Step-by-Step

Step 1. Schedule twenty to thirty minutes for a Mind Sweep.
Step 2. Complete your first Mind Sweep.
Step 3. Place what you have captured in your in-tray.

Step 1. Schedule twenty to thirty minutes for a Mind Sweep.

What is a mind sweep anyway?

A Mind Sweep is simply writing down all that is on your mind. It’s a way to completely clear your mind by capturing whatever is on your mind and putting it down on paper.

Step 2. Complete your first Mind Sweep.

  1. Find a quiet place, if at all possible, where you can work on this move.
  2. Have a pen and a stack of paper at hand. You can also use the next few blank pages in this Workbook if you’d prefer.
  3. Start capturing each thought or idea or project that is on your mind and has your attention. Think of this as a complete brain dump.
  4. Putting each thought on a separate piece of paper will make the next moves easier; but writing them in a long list or even recording yourself on a digital device can also work, if you choose.

Step 3: Place what you have captured in your in-tray.

Put all your pieces of paper, any lists you’ve made, and any other miscellaneous articles into your in-tray.

The coolest thing about a well-functioning in-tray is that it means you don’t need to think or decide about stuff until you’re ready to do that, and you don’t miss anything that might be valuable to think and decide about at a later time.


What Now?

Where do all of these things go from here? In the later move titled “Get Your In-tray to Empty” you will learn best practices for what to do with these and all other items in your in-tray.

Grief and Relief!

It is common to experience both grief and relief after doing a Mind Sweep.

Grief can stem from items coming forward that had been tucked away in your mind for too long. This might include things you had promised yourself or someone else you would do. Now these items are in your system, and you can decide what to do about them.

Relief comes from getting all these items out of your head and into your system. Getting a grip on your current realities, for better or worse, is always a positively productive starting place.


From The Getting Things Done Workbook
By David Allen and Brandon Hall, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by David Allen and Brandon Hall, PhD..

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

David Allen

Written by

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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