How to Declutter Your Mind with a Brain Dump
If your mind is overflowing with a million details and you fear forgetting that one essential thing, try a brain dump. A brain dump will declutter your mind and brings you back to peace. It can be a great way to offload worries or capture creative ideas too.
I’m preparing to move, and some days, it feels like my head will burst. There are so many little details like the natural gas to propane conversion kit for the dryer to selling equipment I will no longer be able to use to buying small items like shelf paper.
I started to feel overwhelmed. So I sat down and did a brain dump. It relieved my mind of all the minutia so I could relax again.
It’s impossible to keep everything in your mind. Even if you plan meticulously, there’s still a tendency for some things to fall through the cracks. And, if you’re like me, there’s a whole subset of tasks, ones that are important but not urgent or ones you don’t enjoy, that you likely put off as long as possible.
There is a price you pay for attempting to keep everything in your head.
Items from your mental to-do list will periodically jump out at you and distract you from the moment. Distractions like this decrease your focus and productivity if you’re working. Preoccupation can also take time and attention away from your loved ones and interfere with joy of living.
Then there’s forgetting. If you forget even a small task, it can cost you extra time and/or money. If you neglect something major, you may seriously disappoint or even lose a client, let your boss down, or strain your relationship.
And there’s the constant underlying stress that comes along with trying to remember everything.
A periodic brain dump will help you feel in control of your life again. You’ll get all the nagging details out of your head. Once on paper, you’ll be able to see what’s really important, focus on one thing at a time, and stop worrying about missing an important piece.
13 Ways to Use a Brain Dump
Traditionally, a brain dump involves getting ALL your thoughts out of your head onto paper. Yes, every thought, detail, feeling, or worry as it comes, in no particular order. Literally, just dump everything out of your brain onto paper.
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However, I sometimes use brain dumps for a specific purpose like my move, and you can too. If other things come to mind, I’ll list them out too, but the main purpose in this case is to unload everything on a particular event or project.
Here are 13 ways you can use a brain dump:
At night, before you go to bed, to clear your mind.
In the morning, when you wake up to capture fresh ideas.
At the start or end of each week, month, quarter, or season.
To catch a flow of inspiration.
When you have too much to do.
To offload your worries.
When you feel overwhelmed or off-balance.
To capture everything for a specific project.
To gather all the tasks for an upcoming trip.
To unload emotions.
To collect creative ideas.
After an important meeting or phone call.
Before writing an article or blog post.
How to Do a Brain Dump
How do you do a brain dump?
Simply write down everything in your mind, don’t limit yourself or hold anything back. That includes tasks, details, thoughts, feelings, ideas, everything you need to do, everything you want to do, and everything you should do. Write quickly until it feels like there’s nothing left.
Leave your list out in a visible place for the whole day. Come back to it whenever a new thought or task pops into your mind. Be sure to write down new ideas immediately before they vanish into space.
Once you’ve done your brain dump, your mind will be more relaxed. You’ll be able to concentrate on your task of the moment and not be constantly pulled away by the millions of tasks and ideas floating around in your head. That’s how it worked for me when I did my move brain dump.
Don’t worry if your brain dump is long. We’ll talk about how to organize it next.
Add Order to Your Brain Dump
A brain dump is not the same as a to-do list because it’s random and disorganized. But a brain dump can become the basis for your to-do list.
Here are some ways to add order to your brain dump.
Lisa Jacob’s Approach
In her book, Your Best Year (Final Draft): Productivity Workbook and Business Planner, entrepreneur Lisa Jacobs suggests a seasonal brain dump (or what’s called rapid log in the Bullet Journal world), to help unload all your unfinished business and new ideas, including both work and personal to-dos. Once all those tasks are on paper, she organizes them into these 5 categories:
You can see an image of Jacob’s seasonal brain dump and categorized list here on her Instagram page.
You can use Lisa Jacob’s system if it appeals to you or create your own categories.
For example, you could divide your items into work and personal. Or organize them into finer categories like social, health, professional, volunteer, etc. Use color coding, if it helps you.
Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
Or you could arrange your brain dump items according to Steven Covey’s time management matrix categories: Urgent, Not Urgent, Important, Not Important.
The Timeline Approach
You could organize your brain dump into a timeline. For example, I took all the items on my move brain dump and listed each one under this week, next week, and the following week, when my move will take place.
Ryder Carrol’s Approach
In his book, the Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carrol suggests a mental inventory that is similar to but a little more structured than a brain dump. He recommends decluttering your mind by listing everything in 3 categories:
Should Be Working On
Want To Be Working On
He suggests putting each item to the test with 2 questions:
1. Does this matter?
2. Is this vital?
This would be another way to work with your brain dump. It will ensure you focus on what really matters to you. It can also help you to simplify your life by ditching what’s not truly important to you.
The Plough Through Approach
Another way to work with your brain dump, once it’s organized, is to set aside a chunk of time - for example, a whole day or a weekend, to plough through and get most of it done.
You probably won’t be able to complete big visions like setting up a new business, writing a book, or a blog, but you can outline steps so you’ll be ready to make them happen. And you will surely catch up on a backlog of smaller tasks.
Journal Your Inner Experience
Lastly, don’t neglect any insights, feelings, worries, or doubts that came up during your brain dump. Journal about them to explore what might be at the core. Or brainstorm ways to offset the worries or doubts.
Brain Dump: A Powerful Way to Declutter Your Mind
The concept of a “brain dump” originated with David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. It’s powerful way to declutter your mind, and get things done.
It helped me tremendously with all the details of my move. I hope you’ll find it helpful too.