Have you ever looked down at your task list and just threw up your arms in frustration because you knew that no matter how diligent and focused you were all day, you would just never get through everything? This has happened to me more times than I can count. There’s something about an ever-growing task list that can send me into overwhelm so fast that I simply lose all motivation and focus to accomplish anything at all.
So what do you do when you see yourself spiraling? Give up and crawl into bed or watch Netflix all day because you just simply can’t handle it?
Dramatics aside, the reality remains that if you're like most creatively productive people, you probably have more tasks on your list than hours in the day. This imbalance can certainly be disheartening and overwhelming.
Though lying in bed or binge-watching Netflix sounds like fun, most of us simply don’t have (and probably wouldn’t even want) that luxury. Instead, the solution is to move past those thoughts of debilitating overwhelm and work to find mental clarity on your best “next steps.”
So how do we do this? When I feel myself getting weighed down by all the things on my growing to-do list, my first course of action is to sit down and do a good “Brain Dump.” I’ve found that by using this process regularly, I can effectively clear my mind of the mental clutter and allow myself to focus on my most important tasks at hand.
WHAT IS BRAIN DUMP?
A brain dump is exactly what it sounds like – an exercise to get everything out of your brain and onto paper. You literally take every thought that is in your head and record it down for later organization.
Unfortunately, you simply can’t process everything that’s inside your brain at any one time, so removing them from active memory to a place where you can see and recall them later on helps your mind feel relaxed and increases your productivity. No longer are you worried about what you're going to make for dinner- now the only thing that matters is the current task at hand.
A brain dump allows you to consciously address thoughts swimming aimlessly around in your mind, giving them direction and purpose, thus keep them from distracting you from your tasks, goals and projects.
BENEFITS of a BRAIN DUMP?
The benefits of a brain dump (and the planning-stage afterward) can be huge, though they’re different for everyone. Some positive changes I’ve noticed in my own life include:
- Better clarity and peace of mind in which tasks deserve my attention
- More productivity & focus - I know what to do and when best to do them
- A feeling of control of my own life – I choose my actions instead of living reactionary in “survival mode”
- A peaceful and relaxed mind – no more internal mental battles or feelings of guilt over neglected tasks
- Improved sleep, relaxation & guilt-free personal time
HOW TO BRAIN DUMP:
Do these sound like lofty promises? Well I assure you, through careful planning and follow through, it is possible. It all starts with a Brain Dump! So let’s get started.
Here’s what you need to do for a proper brain dump:
Download the included workbook (any notebook or even scratch-paper will work just fine too!), grab your favorite pen and set aside a little quiet time to do this.
(A Note on technology: If you’re more digital-minded, you can even use your computer or phone. The medium for recording really doesn’t matter, but for all my love for technology, if I’m being honest, there is some real value in going the old-fashioned way of pen and paper.)
Start writing everything that comes to mind. Don’t judge, don’t edit, and don’t skip over anything. Any ideas for projects, to-dos, commitments and the likes go on the page. Need to repair your roof before next winter? Your husband needs new boots? Someday you really want to re-organize your closet? Write it all down.
You might be shocked at the number of things you can write down in just 10-15 minutes. The first time I did a brain dump, I filled several pages! Looking at this list when you’re done can seem overwhelming at first, but remember, the more you brain-dump, the more manageable it will become.
What you do with your brain dump is really up to you. For some, the simple act of dumping your thoughts out of your brain and onto the paper is valuable enough. For me, I have to actually put some additional time forth to organize and process my list so I know what steps are needed moving forward.
If you’re strapped for time, put the pages aside to come back to later. When you’re ready, spend some time going through your list and organize by deadline, category or priority. Figure out out what you most want (or need) to do and focus on. For example, you may make a list of good work related ideas that you should try to implement over the coming weeks.
After some consideration, you may also decide some tasks are unnecessary and remove them from your list. That is perfectly alright! There’s definite value in simplifying your time.
Going through your brain dump like this allows you to sort and categorize the information into a manageable format, one task at a time. For more information on how to process and organize your list, including a detailed walkthrough with additional printables, check out my free course on task organization.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL BRAIN DUMP:
As you repeat and improve on your brain-dumping routine, here are some additional tips to help you get the most from your exercise:
- In its purest form, brain dumping is simply creating a list of unconnected thoughts on a page. Don’t worry about being too detailed or organized just yet – a good brain dump is quick and dirty. To the point. All you’re doing is getting it out of your mind. You’ll spend some time processing and organizing your thoughts later on.
- Don’t try to sort or organize your list just yet. Let them flow from your brain to the paper. Write the words that come to your mind freely and quickly. Don't worry about grammar or word choice or even spelling, just put whatever comes to your mind on the paper as fast as you can.
- Take your time, don’t force it and take a breather every now and again. If you want to set a timer and write until it goes off, you can. I find I feel too rushed when I try this tactic, but for many I know it helps stimulate ideas.
- Don’t judge or censor yourself as you write. Often we don’t write the things we are thinking or dreaming because “there’s no way I could do that!” or “someday maybe I’ll get to it, but I just can’t right now.” Maybe it’s not in the cards for you at this time in your life, but if you don’t at least acknowledge it (write it down), it’ll just continue floating around in your mind- and isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? Writing it down tells your mind “ok, I understand this thought may be important for me at some point, but I’ll come back to it when the time is right.” It gives your mind permission to focus on other things. Besides, Brain Dumping isn’t about practicality anyway- it’s about getting those thoughts on paper. Save practicality for later.
I hope you are beginning to see the effectiveness of regular brain-dump sessions, and the role it plays in your productivity. There are few things less productive than having those random, unconnected thoughts floating through your head, taking up valuable brain space, sucking up your energy and focus.
The process of Brain Dumping can feel quite exhausting, but it is incredibly rewarding, helpful and freeing. Think of it like dejunking your kitchen drawer: you’re freeing up a whole lot of space in your mind and clearing the mental clutter that has been steadily accumulating!
It can be a good idea to institute a weekly or monthly brain dump ritual to keep your mind uncluttered and free. You definitely don’t want to fall into the endless mental spiral that prompted the overwhelm in the first place. We want to move forward, not backward.
Now download your printable below and make a date with your brain!
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Now that you've completed your brain dump, you're probably wondering what to do with everything you wrote down. You'll find out what to do next in my FREE course "Transform the Overwhelm: 7 Days to Peaceful Productivity", which you can sign up for right now. Every day for a week you’ll receive detailed instructions, exercises, and support from me as you navigate your own list and work to transform those feelings of overwhelm into true productivity. Don't miss out!