Writing Wednesday: Brain dump

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A question I see often online is: what is a “brain dump,” and how do you do one?

A brain dump is not like taking things to the dump to throw away. It’s like dumping out your brain and getting everything out in front of you so you can deal with it. You know all those tasks, ideas, and thoughts swimming around in your mind? Dump them out, then you can sort through them to figure out your next steps.

Imagine dumping out your bag. You don’t pick things out one at a time and sort each item as you go. No. You dump the bag straight out, dig things out of the pockets, scoop everything out from the bottom. Then once everything is out in front of you, you can sort through and make decisions on what to throw away, what to group together, and what needs action.

For a brain dump, you write everything you have on your mind on a big piece of paper. Don’t use your nice notebook, and especially don’t use your planner. Just get a full size piece of paper from the printer tray and go to town.

I’ve seen various methods for doing a brain dump, but honestly I think they just complicate what is really a straightforward process.

The key thing when doing a brain dump is not to make any decisions at this point. Don’t even title your page. Just write everything down as it comes to you. Decision-making will slow your dumping process and will lead you off track.

Don’t categorize tasks, ideas, future events, anything. You’ll do that later. At the moment just dump. “Get outfit for Kathy’s wedding.” “Paint living room.” “Finish work report.” “Research flight tickets for vacation.” Anything and everything that’s on your mind. Often you’ll discover there was more floating around in there than you realized. No wonder you felt so tense.

Having everything out in front of you can look fairly horrifying. That’s a big mess right there. Now it’s time to sort through it.

Get out your planner and note any events. Line through each item as you take care of it.

Write your task lists for work, home, personal, etc. Go ahead and prioritize tasks so you don’t get overwhelmed with things to do. Some things are urgent, some can be done later, some are maybe-someday. Again line out each item as you designate it somewhere else.

Some items, like “Paint living room,” are actually multi-step projects. Break them down into actionable steps: “Research paint colors and brands,” “Buy painting supplies,” etc.

Once you’ve gotten through your brain dump and everything has been designated to either a day and time or to an action list, you’ll feel better and know what you need to do next!

A brain dump is a great way to eliminate that feeling of overwhelm and get you to move forward. It can help you bust through the wall of procrastination and empower you to take action.

Do you brain dump? Do you have a specific method?

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