Since I keep talking about brain dumps in my posts I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a whole post discussing what a brain dump actually is and how to do one.
What is A ‘Brain Dump’?
Brain dumping is the process of writing down everything you have floating around in your head. Some people like to call them a Master ‘To Do’ lists and some people call them ‘brain spew’ (yummy). However, whatever you would like to call it, it is a very powerful tool to help you organise and take control of your thoughts.
Brain dumping is like spring cleaning your mind, clearing away all those mental cobwebs and organising all your physiological clutter.
Why Are Brain Dumps Effective?
Our brains can generate thousands of thoughts every day. We are constantly thinking from the moment we wake up till the second we go to sleep. Some are just one off thoughts and others are the same thoughts going around in circles. It is like they are on a merry-go-round and every so often they will pop up to say ‘hello’. We may acknowledge the thought by saying ‘hello’ back but if we are busy we may just give them a little wave, with good intentions of continuing the conversation ‘later’.
However, every day new thoughts are formed and they join the merry-go-round. The more unprocessed thoughts that join, the faster the merry-go-round will get. This will become very heavy, busy and noisy, making you feel very overwhelmed. The merry-go-round will be so full, thoughts will be falling off and some will be clinging on for their dear life. This will make you feel stressed, confused and frustrated. Your head may become so crowded that they will start to make you have feelings anxiety. Therefore causing underlying emotional and mental health issues, such as depression and chronic fatigue.
You need to stop that merry-go-round, get all the thoughts off, give them a ticket with a number/category on and tell them to join the cue.
Our brains are designed for thinking and processing thoughts, they are not designed to store everything. This is why Creative tools, such as brain dumps, brain storming, mind maps, spider graphs and journalling can be very beneficial for your overall health and well-being. They allow you to store your thoughts on paper, leaving your mind free to focus on whatever you need to do.
When & How Often Should You Do A Brain Dump?
There is no set in stone ‘rules’ of when and how often you should do a brain dump. You may decide doing one off brain dumps randomly is more beneficial to you then doing them at regular intervals and as part of your routine. You have to just do what feels right for you.
I do brain dumps whenever I feel overwhelmed by my thoughts and at the end of every month. This helps me stay focused on my goals, re-evaluate my priorities, tackle overwhelm, manage my time and help my workflow stay productive. You may decide to do them more or less regularly, just do whatever fits into your lifestyle and whatever you feel comfortable with.
How to Do a Brain Dump?
Any scrap paper will do but if you decide to make brain dumping part of your routine, I suggest you dedicate a notebook or journal for the process.
All you need is one pen but if you are anything like me then you will like colours. I like to colour code my categories. This makes it easier on the eye and easier for my brain to process.
Timer – optional
If you work better under pressure then I suggest you set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes.
Step 1 – Empty your head
Set your timer if you have decided to use one, get your paper and pens and just start writing. Just let your thoughts flow from your mind and out of the tip of the pen. Forget what I just said about colour coding before (that will come later) and just write. You can write out your thoughts in any format you feel comfortable with. I like bullet pointed lists but you may feel more comfortable doing mind maps or journalling.
I often get out my paper to do a brain dump but once I have the blank paper in front of me…my mind suddenly goes BLANK too. When this happens to me, I do little doodles on the page until my thoughts start to flow again.
Once your thoughts run dry, I recommend you keep your brain dump out on your desk for a few hours or even days. That way, you can go back and add whatever pops up into your head. Keep doing this until you are satisfied you have included everything.
Step 2 – Divide pages into sections
Once you have brain dumped all your thoughts, it is time to organise them. I like to divide one piece of paper into 4 sections and another piece of paper into 2 sections.
- Projects – big & small
- Appointments, Meetings & Calls
You don’t have to use the same categories as this, you can personalise them to whatever meets your needs.
Start by transferring everything from your brain dump into the right category. Keep going till you have crossed everything off your brain dump.
Step 3 – Evaluate
Now it is time to get those beautiful coloured pens and highlighters out. Dedicate one colour for each of these times;
- ASAP (today/tomorrow)
- This week
- This month
Once you highlight all the appropriate tasks in the dedicated colour you may be left with some uncoloured tasks. This is where you will evaluate whether or not they should stay on your list. You could delete them all together or ‘recycle’ them for a later date. All the ‘recycled’ tasks and ideas can then be coloured in with the colour dedicated to ‘Someday’.
Step 4 – Process
OK, so now you have a couple of pages that look like a beautiful colourful mess. It is time to process them. To process them I work through them in order of priority…ASAP, this week, this month and someday. Take each ‘thing’ from your list individually and write out a detailed action plan for each one.
When you are writing your action steps out it is a good idea to follow the SMART goal setting strategy. SMART goal setting is an anagram for;
Once you have all your completed tasks and projects, you can now transfer them into your planner. (My favourite part).
You now have an un-cluttered mind and a clear plan to take action on every ‘thought’. Your very busy merry-go-round is now organised and every thought is waiting patiently in cue with their ticket.
Have you ever done a ‘brain dump’? What process do you go through to empty your head of the clutter? Have I missed something you think is important?
Please leave a comment down below. I would love to hear your views and experiences using the ‘brain dumping’ process.
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