Do you ever find that distractions get in the way of your creative thinking time? Is your mind buzzing, heading off in many different directions, sapping your energy for brainstorming? Tom Wujec, author of Five Star Mind: Games & Puzzles to Stimulate Your Creativity & Imagination, offers a clever solution to this common problem.

To clear your mind of distractions, do a “mental dump.”

Here is how:

  1. Take a piece of paper and, as quickly as you can, write down any issues that comes to mind. Keep writing until you have nothing more to add.
  2. Next, take a look at your list and acknowledge that you will deal with these concerns at an appropriate time.
  3. Now you can devote yourself fully to the creative task that you originally wanted to focus on.

Julia Cameron, author of the popular book series, The Artist’s Way, calls this technique “morning pages.” She recommends that you take a journal and write three pages every morning, without fail – hand written, not in digital form. The kinaesthetic aspect of writing in longhand form is a key to its effectiveness.

The content of your morning pages can be anything that’s on your mind. Even if the thoughts you’re writing are negative, Cameron says that’s okay. Putting them on paper is cathartic for the mind; this simple technique helps to clear out your mental cobwebs so you can devote yourself more fully to the creative tasks each day hold. In a video on her website, Cameron uses this colorful analogy: “It’s like taking a dustbuster and poking it around into the corners of your mind,” she explains. By transmuting these thoughts into physical form, on paper, you can set them aside – both literally and figurately – and enter your day more refreshed and creative.

I’ve known about the technique of doing a “mental dump” for many years, but only as a brainstorming strategy – a way to quickly record all of the ideas that are floating around in your head, without self-censoring them. Until I saw this technique described in Five Star Mind and Julia Cameron’s work, I had never considered it in this context – as a tool to help get all of your mental flotsam and jetsam out of the way so that your really creative thoughts can emerge.

The same technique works equally well in group brainstorming sessions. Plan for some “warm up” time to get participants into a creative frame of mind, just as you would stretch prior to exercising. Solicit the group’s top of mind thoughts and ideas but – here’s the important part – don’t stop there. The first ideas that brainstorming participants throw out are typically the obvious solutions, and they tend to be of fairly low value. Keep pushing the group farther outside of their comfort zone via a variety of playful activities and ideation exercises. This is where some of the greatest insights and highest-value ideas will likely emerge.

How can you put this technique to work? If you or your team are going to be engaging in work that requires your best creative thinking, first take 5-10 minutes to clear your minds using this “brainwriting” technique. I think you’ll find it makes a significant difference for you and your team!

By Chuck Frey

Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.