Brain dumps are a great strategy to help when you need to get something out of your head and onto paper. If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the sheer number of things on your to do list, you know how cluttered your mind can feel trying to remember everything.
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I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent several nights tossing and turning while running my to do list through my head.
A brain dump helps with this because it’s a way to get all of that stuff down on paper or into some sort of an arrangement that makes sense. It’s like taking everything off your mind and putting it somewhere else. When it’s somewhere else, you don’t have to keep ruminating about it over and over again. In a sense, you’ve cleared your hard drive!
As with any kind of list, a brain dump can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. A 3-item bucket list probably isn’t too hard to remember, but when you’re dumping the contents of your mental hard drive into a piece of paper, it’s best if things are organized no matter how long and elaborate they get.
Writing things down can help you reduce that anxiety and clear your mind so you can actually get things done.
What Exactly is a Brain Dump?
A brain dump is basically a list of everything that’s on your mind. It’s most helpful to write these down into categories. This helps you to remember things a bit better, not to mention that it makes the brain dump page much more useful! I created this brain dump worksheet to help you try this out.
A brain dump, or brain dump session, is when you try to get your thoughts out as fast as possible by writing down every idea from your head without worrying too much about making things sound perfect.
You can do a brain dump about “everything” that’s on your mind or you could focus your brain dump on a particular topic. I personally prefer using the method where I focus on a particular topic.
That helps me to stay out of overwhelm and to organize things better.
The things that go into your brain dump will depend on what you need the list for, but here are some ideas of things I’ve done them on:
- Blog post ideas
- My to do list
- Grocery lists
- Books to Read
- Things I want to learn in my free time
- Take a project and brainstorm the smaller steps that will get you to the end of that project
You can use a general list of bullet journal collection ideas to come up with some more ideas of what you could do a brain dump about. As I’m writing this, it occurred to me that I did a brain dump when writing that post! It’s a great example.
You can see the overall topic is “what would be some ideas of lists or collections that I could write in my bullet journal?” I then broke that into different topics such as health, fun, self reflection, and more.
What Do You Need To Do a Brain Dump?
There are quite a few ways to do a brain dump. The most simple way is to get out a piece of paper (or even a napkin) and start writing what’s on your mind. This could lead to an overwhelming, unorganized list, so I recommend starting out with categories related to whatever it is you want to brain dump about.
If you’re a paper and pen person, be sure to download this brain dump worksheet PDF I created for you! (I’ve also included a version to use in digital planners).
The way you actually do a brain dump should be dependent on what works best for you when you’re thinking about something. You may find that you want to type because it’s faster for you. You may enjoy putting pen to paper when getting your thoughts out. Heck, maybe you even wish to use doodles to represent your thoughts.
Ideas for how/where to do a brain dump:
- Start with a blank sheet of paper
- Start a new page in your bullet journal or planner. I especially like using a bullet journal brain dump page. Bullet journaling gives you a lot of freedom as to what should be included.
- Open a page in your favorite document editor (like Google Docs)
- Start a new note in a notes app on your iPad (such as GoodNotes)
- Use a notes page in your digital planner
- Use colorful sticky notes. (I like using this one and color coding based on topic)
- Use Trello! I love using Trello for things like this because I can move the little cards around and prioritize them. I can also put notes inside of the cards for later if I want to remember something about the item.
- Create a mind map in your journal or on a piece of paper.
How to do a Mind Dump
Many people find that making lists is the easiest way to get their thoughts out of their head and into the world. To see an example of how to use these kind of lists to manage your day, read this post on creating a to do list journal.
The first step in any brain dump is to decide on the overall topic of your brain dump.
Next, decide the categories you may organize the topic into. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real category or just something your mind made up, the point is getting all the things that are currently floating around in your head organized so they can be remembered later more easily.
If you’re doing a brain dump of all of the tasks you need to do, you may consider categorizing them by level of urgency (urgent, high priority, next, some day)
If you’re doing a brain dump about projects, you may want to categorize them by place (home, work) or by topic (fun, household task, business, task, maintenance task, things to learn, etc).
Doing the actual brain dumping is like making a grocery list. You take each category and then write everything that comes to mind from that category under the topic on your brain dump “page.”
How much should you write down? Well, that’s going to depend on what works best for you. You may be someone who needs to write out a paragraph about your thought or you may be someone who can get by with just a few words.
Do Brain Dumps Have to be in List Form?
Nope, you can do your brain dump in any way you want to. If lists aren’t your thing, you can try these other things: , another way to make things easier is to use an outline.
- Create an outline. This can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, and you can always change the format later if something isn’t working for you. Start with your main category and write that at the top of your paper (if you have a lot of different categories, write the most important one first). After that, just start writing down everything else that’s floating around your head.
- Use a mind map or other way of visually representing your brain (scary haha). Mind mapping is great for those who process things visually.
- Write in paragraph form in your journal – I’ve used this way of brain dumping when trying to figure something out. You could either use journal prompts like these or you could do something like morning pages (book link).
- Use a sketchbook! I think this would be a cool way of getting thoughts about your day down on paper (I would likely use Procreate for this on my iPad though)
What are the Benefits of Brain Dumping?
There are lots of different reasons to do a brain dump, but the main idea is to get all your thoughts out of your head and arranged in some sort of way that’ll make it easier for you to remember them or take action on them later.
Along with improving your memory and organizing your actions, other benefits include:
- Clear your mind – once you get it down on paper, it no longer needs to take up brain space!
- Brain dumping can help you prepare for important meetings.
- Brain dumping can help you to focus on what matters.
- Brain dumping can help you keep track of a large amount of information while also helping you to prioritize that information in some fashion. You can then put the page somewhere else (like the back of your journal or planner) so your giant list isn’t overwhelming.
- You can review your brain dump page in the future to help to remember the things on it.
- Reduce anxiety and stress by getting everything out of your head
- This is also a good thing to do if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying relaxed in general because it can help stop obsessive thoughts. Some people even use the act of doing a brain dump to help deal with anxiety by simply writing down their thoughts on different things without thinking about them too much.
- Note: If you’re good at visualization, you could picture yourself putting these worry thoughts in a lock box so that you can feel they are “away”
How and Where Should I Store My Brain Dump?
The best place to store your brain dump depends on what you’re using it for. If you need to be able to access the list quickly, put it somewhere you can get to it easily and regularly, such as your desk or computer desktop. If you don’t need to keep a copy of the list with you at all times, but still want easy access to it, use GoodNotes or something similar to save a copy of your brain dump.
The benefit to using something like Evernote or GoodNotes is that those notes are searchable and you can use them from multiple devices including your phone!
Download the PDF brain dump worksheet I created for you. I’ve included a printable PDF and an image you can use in a digital planner.
Here’s an example of some of the different ways I store my “brain dumps”
- I have a master task list in the back of my planner. This means I can look at it any time that I want to while at the same time I don’t run into at times when it would just overwhelm me. (Big to do list anyone?)
- I have a giant list of “projects” I’d like to accomplish in my goal journal. I tend to be someone who has lots of goals and things I want to do and often get to the point where I have so much to do that I don’t do any of it! Doing a brain dump of all of those things helped me to then go through and pick the top few that I would like to work on now. Having the brain dump project page reassures me that those things won’t be forgotten.
- I have my blog post ideas in Trello. Trello is cool because I can move the cards around in different categories or I can move them up or down in priority. I can also add other things to the Trello cards like pictures I want to use, thoughts on the topic, etc. You can even do a brain dump of your post idea right inside a Trello card!
- When I was first starting my blog, I used the sticky note method where I put each of the categories I was interested in on a different color sticky note and then set a timer for 30 minutes and put whatever I could think of in each blog category according to the color that category represented. I love this method because it has similar benefits to Trello but on paper. (Hint: I next made these sticky notes into Trello cards).
What’s Another Word for Brain Dump?
I think I’ve said “brain dump” twelve million times in this post so I think it’s time to think of some brain dump synonyms. Other terms to use:
- Master List
- Brainstorm List
- My Thoughts
- Brain Backup
- Brain Declutter
- Brain Tornado
- Brain Time
Of course you could just call the page the title of what the page is about!
- Project List
- Movies to Watch
- Bucket List
- Action Items
- Categorized Task List
How Long Should a Brain Dump Take?
This exercise can take however long you give it. As mentioned above, I’ve set a timer and created a brain dump list in 30 minutes when brainstorming blog topics. I’ve also done a brain dump in a short period of time as described below. This one took under 5 minutes:
A Simplified Brain Dump Exercise
Sometimes when I’m working on a project I start to get overwhelmed with all of the things I have to do. I get a sense of my mind becoming overwhelmed and sort of spinning. At these times, I know that what’s happening is that my brain is trying to “help me” by remembering all of the things I need to do next.
This is incredibly distracting because then the feelings come in and guess what feeling I get? You got it! Overwhelm.
When I feel this start to happen, I often will open a page in my journal or a note on my iPad and quickly write down all of the things I need to do next. Getting what’s on my mind onto paper helps me to keep going even when it feels hard.
This just happened while writing this blog post, so I’ll give you a rundown of what I wrote on the list:
- Write a headline (I hate writing headlines)
- Find blog image and create it in Canva
- Write image alt description and place in blog, make it a featured image
- Add other images? Find images or take pictures
- Create printable
- Create opt in box and write email connecting box to the printable so you can access it.
- Make a few images for Pinterest. Write Pinterest description
- Write blog meta description
- Change URL
- Fix any formatting issues
- Add in links
- Put in affiliate disclosure
- Post on Pinterest and Facebook
- Write an email to share with my readers.
- TAKE A BREAK AND DO SOME ART!
Will You Try a Brain Dump?
What do you think, will a brain dump be useful to you? Are you willing to give it a try?
I’ve created a downloadable brain dump template worksheet you can use to try this out. It’s a full page download that has category boxes on it. Pick your category, label the boxes and then set a timer and fill the boxes with everything that comes to mind!