About a week ago, I found myself simultaneously thinking about writing this blog, handling client invoices, cleaning the ceiling fan, drinking more water, checking to see if I put my new mammogram date on the calendar, mailing my sister a birthday card, giving the dog his medicine, sending thank you notes, finding toilet paper, reminding my son to start his car since he’s been home for so many days during quarantine, and at least 20 more things. All At. The. Same. Time.
Did that make you feel exhausted just by reading it? Does your brain often feel like a computer with 27 tabs open? Luckily, I’ve found a solution. They’re called brain dumps.
Why Brain Dumps?
I teach clients that the most effective way to de-clutter any space is to take everything out and only put things that help you accomplish your work or enjoy your life back in. The same is true for thoughts and ideas that take up space in your head. By getting everything out, you free up space for creativity, giving yourself the ability to focus on and tackle those important tasks.
Write EVERYTHING Down
To do a brain dump, all you need is something to write on and something to write with. Your goal is to write down absolutely everything that comes to mind. Really - everything. Let your mind wander! Don’t force yourself to make a list of “to-do” items, but instead write down any type of thought that comes to mind. I recently had a client who said the same thought came up twice. That’s okay if that happens…write it down still. You’re not only closing those “open tabs,” you’re also allowing things to come from your subconscious up to the surface.
What it Looks Like and When to do it Every brain dump will look different. Some brain dumps may be a page of organized bullet points while others may look like mind maps and scribbles. The most important thing is that you’re able to get it down on paper. When you choose to do a brain dump is a personal decision that you’ll make. For example, I prefer doing these brain dumps early on Sundays, and then walking away and letting any additional ideas come to me during the day. As they come to me throughout the day, I’ll jot them down, and then organize my lists Sunday night. No matter when you do them, I recommend that you do the initial dump in a quiet place free from distractions.
Organize Your Thoughts
After your initial brain dump, it’s important to come back to it later on to form a plan of action. When you return to your brain dump, your goal is to make a game plan for everything you want to accomplish from it. You’ll want to identify action steps for each item and add them to your calendar, to-do lists, shopping lists, and more so that they are not forgotten.
When it comes to organizing your thoughts, here are ways to separate and tackle each type of item on your list:
Quick Results: Read through your list and identify anything that can be done in 10 minutes or less. If you have time, knock some of them out right away.
Upcoming Tasks: For things you can’t do today, work on prioritizing the tasks in order of importance and figuring out when you can focus on them. Add them to your to-do list, your calendar, your CRM, or the appropriate place to keep track.
Projects: Break up large projects into smaller action items. Always ask yourself, “What is the next action that needs to be done on this project?” Write that down on your list. Many also keep a “Project” list as well in a notebook, Google doc, or task manager app.
Errands: Your brain dump will likely include a variety of errands to run and groceries you need. Create a specific checklist for groceries and errands.
Thoughts and Feelings: For thoughts that aren’t task-related, like feelings of loneliness or stress about being unhealthy, try to think of one or two actions you can take in the next week or two that will help. Schedule lunch with a friend and sign up for a virtual yoga class. Taking even one small step is a great start! I sometimes realize that I need to journal separately about a thought that surfaces during the process, so be open to this as well.
Delete and Delegate: As you review your brain dump, take some time to identify items that you can delegate or simply leave undone.
Some weeks I take the time to carefully transfer my brain dump items to the categories above, and other weeks I only pull out the urgent items. You want this exercise to feel freeing, not like another chore.
While some may benefit from having a specific day to do a brain dump each week, they can come in handy for those times you feel overwhelmed, are planning for the upcoming week, month, or year, feel stuck or out of balance, or have multiple projects on the horizon. Brain dumps are one helpful tool for improving mental clarity, focus, and peace. Experiment with what works for you and let me know what you find! If you’d like to talk through the process or have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.