The Single Greatest Technique for Breaking Through Mental Roadblocks

Mindstorming, also called the 20 Idea Method, is a term that Brian Tracy developed to describe a slight variation of brainstorming. Start with a question/topic, and then write down the first 20 ideas that come to mind. No contemplating, no censoring, no pressure. Just write.

Bassam Tarazi calls it the 5 Minute Exercise. For example, instead of trying to force yourself to “clean up your room,” (the very thought of which undoubtedly stirs up countless unpleasant childhood memories) you set an alarm for 5 minutes, and then do as much as you can before it goes off. The beauty of this is that because of the deadline, there is far less pressure to get started. In other words, the barrier to entry is very low.

Ramit Sethi calls it the 5 minute straight jacket technique. As far as I understand it, in involves sitting down for 5 minutes, and forcing yourself to come up with ideas to solve the particular question you are working on.

See how all these techniques are similar by the way? That’s no accident.

But Shir, 20 ideas sounds like a lot!

It did to me too, at first. But then I started doing it and saw that as long as I don’t censor myself, it’s actually very easy to reach 20 or more ideas. Granted, most ideas are unusable. In fact, sometimes it takes 19 bad ideas to get out of your head to make room for that 1 brilliant idea.

The nuts and bolts of Mindstorming

Even though Brian Tracy doesn’t mention using a timer, I have found it to be extraordinarily effective. And since I work well with music, I decided to play songs without lyrics that lasted for 5 minutes. Here are the 2 that I typically use:

  1. “Cancion Triste” by Jesse Cook
  2. “Fable” by Amethystium

Most often I find myself doing this on the subway, with my noise canceling ear plug-like headphones by Shure. More on how I get work done in the subway in a later post.

Naturally I use my favorite app Outliner, with only the date and the topic of the Mindstorm at the top. Then I open the flood gates of my mind and record whatever gushes out.

So what topics are good for Mindstorming?

Personally I have found the following topics to be perfect for Mindstorming:

  • Preparing questions for an interview or business meeting.
  • Coming up with a name/title for a company, product, book, blog post, or anything creative.
  • Identifying different ways to qualify prospects
  • Uncovering potential business or marketing strategies
  • Creating a list of possible blog topics

Here is a sample of an actual Mindstorming session.

  • 8/29/13 – Questions for [Censored Client Name]’s dashboard requirements
    • What metrics are you currently measuring?
    • How are you measuring these metrics?
    • How are you currently reporting these metrics to clients?
    • How often do you update these reports?
    • How long does each update take, on average?
    • Which metrics are you not measuring that you would like to measure?
    • How many people will be using the dashboard? Will they need to use it at the same time?
    • How important is being able to share the dashboard with others online?
    • Which accounts do you have that contains data you’d like to be included in the dashboard (aside from Google Analytics, and Bing in the future)?
    • What other data do you have that you would like to include in these dashboards? Other databases?
    • How often would you like to be able to review the metrics? Weekly? Daily?
    • If you could have an ideal scenario in terms of dashboards, what would it look like? Please describe.
    • What version of Excel are you using? Mac or PC? Note: must be using PC, I recommend 2010 over 2013. Can’t go back to 2007 though
    • What types of charts would you like to see in your dashboard?
    • If you had to limit your metrics to only the most vital ones, what would they be?
    • What are some additional metrics that would be nice to have?

Sure, there are only 16 ideas here, but this was an excellent jumping board to my Dashboard Requirements Questionnaire (DRQ for short), which I will now use with every client I create dashboards for. Not bad for a 5 minute session! In the past I would have slaved over this for over an hour, or worse yet, not done it at all because I didn’t know where to start.

So let me ask you this…

What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months? It could be professional or personal, whichever is more important to you at this point in your life. Write it down in the form of a question. For example:

“How will I start my own business and earn 6 figures in 12 months?”


“How will I be in a committed, loving relationship in 12 months?”

Got it? Awesome!

Now set a timer for 5 minutes. Feel free to play a song if it helps you too. Once that timer starts, DO NOT STOP writing until the 5 minutes have elapsed.


Ready. Set. Go!


  1. Zuly says:

    My question is, “How will I become poker famous in 12 months?”

    Mindstorming session coming shortly so that I can write a blog post about it.

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