How to Brain Dump + Template
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Have you ever practiced in brain dumping?
I hadn’t until about a year ago. I was feeling overwhelmed, looking at a to do list that was 8,358 items long, and knew I was probably forgetting something.
And when I get to that point, I tend to pull a blanket over my head and watch endless amounts of reality TV. Totally abandoning my responsibilities all together.
Which is why I started the practice of Brain Dumping. This helps me get all of the ideas building up in my head and out on paper. Once they are pulled out of hiding from the corners of my mind – I can get a better handle on what I need to take action on, and what things were just taking up headspace.
Why you Need to Brain Dump
Brain dumping regularly can help you avoid burnout. Think of it as closing out all of those hundreds of mental browser tabs (very similar to the 100s of actual browser tabs you may have open right now).
When all of those tabs are closed, your computer runs better. And the same goes with your brain. Your brain will thank you for helping it run smoother.
Brain dumping also helps you get better rest. If you struggle with getting to sleep at night because there are endless thoughts running through your head, try this activity.
When you get all those thoughts out on to paper, you can rest easy.
All of these things will reduce your overall overwhelm – and couldn’t we all use a bit less overwhelm?
What is a brain dump?
According to Merriam-Webster, Brain Dump is defined by the act of an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas.
Which basically means – pulling ideas out of your head and putting them on paper (or digital paper).
This is more than just creating a to do list. This would include writing out things that are worrying you, or the name you just thought of for the podcast you want to start.
When Should You Brain Dump?
I brain dump at least once a month, just before I write out my goals and intentions for the upcoming month.
It would be great to practice brain dumping weekly, possibly as a part of your Sunday evening prep for the week, but we all start somewhere!
The timing of your brain dumping would ideally be before you reach the point of overwhelm. This tactic is supposed to be preventative rather than reactive. You want to clear your mind before it gets so crowded that you can no longer think.
Start to take note of when you begin to feel overwhelmed, and try to identify what might be triggering that. Is before a big deadline? Maybe when your schedule gets too crowded?
Figuring out your triggers and actually identifying them is helpful for identifying when and how frequently you would benefit from brain dumping.
Other great times to brain dump:
- When you feel overwhelmed
- After an important meeting
- When you are brainstorming
- When your schedule is busy
- As you are planning out your week, month, quarter or year.
- When you are creating long term goals
- Before making a bucket list
How Do You Brain Dump?
Now that we have covered the basics of What and Why, let’s tackle the How.
The first time you try this, budget 30-45 minutes to complete the brain dumping exercise from start to finish.
Open up a blank page (digital or in a notebook)
I like to use google docs for my idea jotting but a piece of paper or pen works great as well.
You can make a bulleted list of your thoughts or just write them out in one long stream of thought.
Set a timer
You get more efficient the more you practice brain dumping. But you do want to set a timer for at least 10 minutes dedicated to just the listing of ideas. It will take several minutes for your ideas to get flowing, so don’t be discouraged if you are drawing blanks out of the gate.
If you reach the end of your 10 minutes, and you are still pulling out ideas, extend your time for 5 more minutes and keep going.
Just start writing (or typing) anything that comes to mind
And not just the work-related items. Write down the recipes. Christmas gift ideas (even if it is July). Whatever pops in your brain.
This is your time to write down (and thus clear out) all of your mental browser tabs. Leave no idea unwritten.
Go for a walk. Take a shower. Lay down on the couch. Your mind will keep churning so keep jotting down ideas that hit you.
Maybe don’t take a shower unless you have a way to dictate your ideas as they hit you. Or unless you have a white board in your shower.
When you finish your break, add your new items to your original list.
Sort your brain dump thoughts
Now we are moving into the ‘action’ part of the process.
Take your list of thoughts and work on sorting them into similar categories or themes.
You can pick whichever categories you see coming through from your thought stream. But here are some common categories
- Habit Improvement
- Goal Ideas
- Individual projects
Next, Break down big items in to smaller tasks.
If you wrote down “write a book” – that is fantastic. But you aren’t going to get that done in the next hour, so we need to create plan to get you going on that idea.
Break that down into several action items. For example:
- Research Book Topic
- Create Chapter Outline
- Write book proposal
- Send proposal to 3 publishing agents
Be as detailed as you can. Bonus if you can add one task to your list that only takes 5 minutes. Think of something that you can do to get the ball rolling and build momentum.
Start sorting all your tasks in to groups based on when you want to tackle them.
- Things to do today
- Things to do this week
- Things to do this month
- Things to do this quarter
- Things to do sometime this year
- Things I don’t need to do (delete these – not everything you write down is going to need an action item, and some will just be bad ideas)
- Things I can delegate (to a spouse, a coworker, a child)
Add Due Dates
If you skip this step, it is likely that all of your hard brain dump work will amount to nothing.
Once I have my tasks grouped by time frame, I move them over to Trello to help me schedule them.
Trello basically a digital poster board that houses digital post it notes (called cards). You can create a card for each task, assign it a due date, and drag the card around if you need to adjust and regroup down the road.
Trello is free – sign up here!
Take Action Now
Now that you have due dates to all of your tasks, take one of the easy ones (like the 5 minute one we talked about) and do it immediately. Yes, right now.
We did this whole brain dumping thing so you could get stuff out of your head and into action right?
So let’s do something!
Celebrate your hard dumping work!
Do you feel better? I feel better for you.
This was a huge step in getting less overwhelmed and making forward progress on the things that are important to you! Celebrate that!
Brain Dump Tools and Templates
You can use a pen and paper and be good to go.
But if you go the digital route (which I do and recommend), here are some tools to make it easier.
- Google Docs
- Notes (the app on your phone)
- Voice memos (you can use GoogleDoc voice dictation to get these typed up easily)
Why I love Brain Dumps
I have a lot of big ideas and try to maximize every part of my day. But that can lead to some overwhelm where my brain moves faster than I can keep up.
Brain Dumping helps me slow things down for a bit and really digest all of the ideas my mind is creating.
Brain dumps have also greatly helped reduce my anxiety and stressors. When I write them down, I tend to realize that I either have no control over what is stressing me out (ie. a pandemic) or it helps me create a plan to manage that stressor.
And moving forward and taking action steps immediately after doing a brain dump allows me to feel accomplished and I can give myself a pat on the back for doing something beneficial at the end of the day.
To help you get started on your brain dump process, I created a Trello board for you that will help you organize your action items so you can start checking things off your list, like now.
Just enter your email in the box below and I will send you the link to access the Trello boards!