The Brain Dump
Do you ever feel like you’ve got a million thoughts, ideas and reminders running through your head?
Like the endless list of “to-do’s” streaming through your brain is driving you crazy?
Like there's just not enough hours in the day to get everything done?
And in today's modern world, there are more distractions than ever. It's no wonder so many of us are longing for a more peaceful and simpler life.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to declutter your overwhelmed mind so you can be more productive and efficient.
It’s called a brain dump.
I didn’t even realize there was a name for it, it was just something I did whenever I felt stressed out and had a lot going on, especially when I was in law school.
If you’ve been having anxiety or feeling stressed out due to the crazy amount of things on your mind, give the brain dump a try – it's one of the best self care ideas for stress relief.
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*Editor's Note (8/12/19): This article was originally published on 2/11/2019. It has been edited to include more helpful information and downloadable content.
What is a Brain Dump?
“Brain dump” is a phrase used to describe the process of transferring information from your brain to another medium.
You could write the contents down on paper, type them into your computer or speak them into an audio recording… whatever works for you.
The point is to get it all out so you can see what you’re working with. From there, you can prioritize, set goals, and get direction for your personal development plan.
Being mentally organized in this way makes you more productive and helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
For me, writing things down works best. It just feels more cathartic when I put pen to paper. (plus, there are these other benefits of writing things down)
If that works for you too, be sure to grab these free brain dump worksheets from the Freebie Library!
*The new & improved form-fillable Brain Dump worksheets are available on pages 4-15 of the
Conquer Overwhelm & Prevent Burnout E-Workbook*
Brain Dump Benefits
Research shows that clutter causes stress and anxiety. Having too many physical stimuli around can leave you feeling disorganized and in a state of chaos.
The same thing goes for mental clutter. Just like your physical environment, your brain can become cluttered with too much “stuff”.
If you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep because your brain just wouldn’t “shut off”, you know what I’m talking about!
You may find that getting all that stuff out on paper helps to clear up some mental space - I always feel more focused and at peace after doing a brain dump.
But, there are other benefits too like:
- when you’re done, you have an organized list of all the things you need to do and all the things you think you should do
- it makes it easier to prioritize tasks, set goals and face whatever’s been on your mind
- it helps you to systematically tackle those nagging things that never seem to get done
- you’re able to more clearly see what’s actionable vs. what’s out of your control
- it helps you to be more creative
How to Do a Brain Dump
As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways to do a brain dump. Some people like to do it in their bullet journals, others like to type it into an app - you should do whatever works best for you!
I like to follow this simple three-step process:
1. Brain Dump Free-Write
First, write everything down.
Everything that’s on your mind. All the things you have to do and all the things you think you should do.
It’s best not to censor it too much at this stage. Just write it down however it comes out - you can go back and edit it later.
So, use this as your opportunity to address whatever’s on your mind. Whatever’s been bugging you or stressing you out – get it out in the open.
The concept/strategy behind the brain dump also applies to organizing your closet, cleaning out the fridge, decluttering the garage, etc. - just get everything out in the open so you can see what’s there.
Then, you can assign each "thing" to a category and decide what to do with it.
Example of a Brain Dump Free-Write: "Organize office, declutter closet, write blog post, research ideas for next blog post, send thank you card, call about house, networking- reach out to other bloggers, comment on blogs, Facebook groups, create pins, doctor's appointment, exercise & meditate more, Thodi’s vet appointment, library books ..."
2. Organize Everything into Categories
Next, organize everything into categories and give each category a color. Get creative! The types of categories you’ll have depends on your list from the brain dump free-write.
Some examples of categories are:
So, you could make “Errands” yellow, “Goals” blue, “Health” green, and so on.
*Brain Dump Ideas: Two Categories I Like to Include*
In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity consultant David Allen recommends doing things that take less than two minutes right away.
And in Atomic Habits, James Clear shares his two-minute rule for procrastination – scale any new habit down to the two-minute version to start.
So, one category I like to include in my brain dump is “Two-Minute Tasks”. If something’s only going to take two minutes, you might as well get it done so you don’t have to worry about it anymore and it’s completely off your plate.
Another category I include in my brain dump is “Procrastination Station”. Here is where you write down anything you’ve been putting off, anything that seems like it never gets done.
Is there something you’ve been meaning to do? Someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to?
This is a good opportunity to get to the root of your procrastination by asking, why you haven’t done that thing yet or if you even need to. If you’re not sure, consider the following:
-Is fear holding you back?
-What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?
-What does "a life you love" look like?
-Are you harboring any limiting beliefs?
-How high is your self-efficacy?
-Are there any road blocks (toxic people, financial, physical, logistical, or mental limitations)?
-Is it time for a digital/social media detox?
-What would need to happen in order for you to accomplish it?
-Who are you, really?
3. Clean Up Your List
Finally, clean up your list so you can focus on what you’ve got to get done.
Notice which things are out of your control –cross them off. There’s literally nothing you can do about them.
Also, cross off all the two-minute tasks as you complete them. Not only do these “small wins” clear up mental energy, they also boost your motivation to go after the bigger tasks.
Next, cross off things that you feel need no further action/attention. Sometimes, just writing things down is enough to make you feel better about them.
Now, you should be left with a list of things that you can prioritize and tackle one at a time instead of being so overwhelmed that you can’t focus on one thing without thinking of ten more!
Wondering what to do with your nice, organized list of actionable tasks/goals?
Well, before you can start doing anything, you've got to know who you really are/ what your core values are, and what's truly important to you/what you want to accomplish.
Defining success for yourself in this way allows you to narrow your focus so you can achieve the goals that are the most important to you (and not waste your precious time on other things).
If you feel like you're always busy but never seem to get anything done, it may be time to:
1- get clear on your "why",
2- change the limiting beliefs that are holding you back from success, and
3- eliminate the stressors that are sucking your energy and the distractions that are killing your productivity.
You also have the power to implement habits & systems to prevent yourself from getting burnt out in the future.
Like a self care Sunday routine - it really helps rejuvenate you for the week ahead!
Over to you – do you keep your To-Do list on the computer/an app or are you a pen and paper kind of person like me? Let me know in the comments!
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