Planning + Productivity

How to Complete and Organize an Effective Brain Dump

Stop worrying about what needs to get done and make a date with your brain! This post guides you step-by-step through a comprehensive brain dump, and explains the most effective way to organize all that information.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.

When I discovered how to brain dump it Rocked. My. World. I could finally go to bed without worrying about all the tasks I needed to get done the next day! This is AMAZING and takes you through not just how to have an effective brain dump, but also how to organize all the information. Who knew the secret could be so simple?!

Does your mind bounce between things you have to do, and things you *think* you should be doing? Do you have a hard time falling asleep because you can’t turn off your brain at night? Are you overwhelmed with hundreds of new ideas, but no time to implement any them?

Ugh. Me too.

The thing is—our brains are not wired to hold onto multiple strings of information at one time. It’s like your internet browser with 26 different tabs open…you can’t concentrate, because you’re constantly flitting from tab to tab, never accomplishing anything of true significance.

Add information overload from the amount of books, magazines, blogs, and social media we consume everyday, and say hello to another mind-inducing complex!

We simply can’t fill our brains to the brim and expect it to hold everything well. This is why planners, bullet journals, and post-it notes are so effective. But where they fall short is when we have hundreds of little reminders and ideas floating around that aren’t necessarily tied to a specific project or task.

Enter: The Brain Dump.

A brain dump is exactly what it sounds like—a chance to get everything out of your brain and onto paper. You not only create room in that pretty little head of yours, you process and organize exactly what you need to do going forward.

How to Brain Dump

In it’s purest form, brain-dumping is simply creating a list of unconnected thoughts on a page.

I like to make a list of bullet points, then jot a thought or sentence next to each one. If I have more to say regarding a specific bullet, I just keep writing. If I have something to add a little later down the page, I will draw an arrow back to the original thought.

Quick Note: Don’t worry about being organized at this point. Just write. It’s okay to be messy, because we are going to process everything later!

Stop worrying about what needs to get done and make a date with your brain! This post guides you step-by-step through a comprehensive brain dump, and explains the most effective way to organize all that information. Who knew eliminating overwhelm could be so simple?!

In fact, you might be shocked at the number of things you write down in 10-15 minutes. The first time I did a brain-dump, I filled up five whole pages! This can be a little overwhelming at first, but remember, the more you brain-dump, the less pages you’ll need to fill.

It’s actually a good idea to institute a weekly or monthly brain dump going forward so you don’t fall into the endless mental spiral that prompted such a large brain dump in the first place. Just grab a pretty journal and make a date with your brain!

How to Process Your Brain Dump

After your brain dump is complete, take a quick break so you can come back with a fresh perspective. Then it’s time to get organized.

1. Grab a set of different colored pens—my faves are the Pilot G2 Pens because they glide right across the page and come in so many different colors. Does anyone else swoon over this aisle at Target?

PENS-AT-TARGET

2. Delete. Delete. Delete. I’ll let you in on a little secret—you do not have to accomplish everything that comes out of your head. In fact, I would encourage you not too! Select a Red or Black pen, and cross off anything that is not reasonable for you to do. If it’s a legitimate “someday” task, keep it. But it’s better to be ruthless now than later.

3. Next, assign one color for each remaining category. A quick glance through your list should help you decide how many categories you need to account for.

For example,

  • Pink = Home
  • Green = Work
  • Purple = Personal
  • Orange = Kids
  • Blue = Errands

Go through your list and place a different colored signifier next to each task. Make sure everything has a label based on it’s specific category.

Stop worrying about what needs to get done and make a date with your brain! This post guides you step-by-step through a comprehensive brain dump, and explains the most effective way to organize all that information. Who knew eliminating overwhelm could be so simple?!

4. Pull out a blank page and draw four quadrants. Label them as follows:

  • A) Urgent and Important – Tasks that go here are your first priority and should be accomplished within the next few weeks.
  • B) Important, but Not Urgent – Tasks that need to get done, but don’t need to be done right away.
  • C) Urgent, but Not Important – Tasks that seem urgent {like email and social media}, but really are not that important.
  • D) Not Urgent, and Not Important – Consider deleting or adding to your “Someday” list.

Note: This process is taken from Steven Covey’s bookFirst Things First.

Stop worrying about what needs to get done and make a date with your brain! This post guides you step-by-step through a comprehensive brain dump, and explains the most effective way to organize all that information. Who knew eliminating overwhelm could be so simple?!

6. Migrate all relevant tasks from your Brain Dump over to this Task Management Page. Do this until all tasks are written down in their specific quadrants according to color. If you have a lot of tasks in a specific category {like Home}, you may want to create a single Task Management Page for that category.

And that’s pretty much it! Doesn’t your list look a lot more doable now?

As you create your upcoming monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists, always refer back to your Task Management Page{s} so you know exactly what needs to get done next. And if you have a task that has multiple steps, than it should be labeled a PROJECT and have it’s own page full of individual tasks.

Remember, if you don’t get things out of your head and into an organized process, it most likely won’t get done. A brain dump helps you tackle those important tasks first, so you can stay organized every day!

Have you ever done a brain dump?

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19 Comments

  1. I do 1-2 brain dumps every month (I hope to start doing more). The first one happens at the end of every month where I brain dump all of my blog ideas. These are specific posts I’ve thought up or anything that might be good to know such as holidays, events, etc.

    The next are personal brain dumps that range from remembering to remind other people things or as silly as don’t forget your lunch today.

    I feel like my mind runs a million miles a minute, so these dumps are a great help.

    1. “A million miles a minute” is exactly how my brain works too – especially at night if I haven’t gotten my next day planned out an organized!!

  2. Love this! I try to do one at the beginning of every week and list everything that is on my mind to do. Then, I try to chip away at it throughout the week, but need to get better at organizing my to-do’s.

    1. I didn’t start doing regular brain dumps until I started using a bullet journal. Now that I’ve started using that system the brain dumps seem to fit in seamlessly!

      1. Do you write your brain dumps in your bullet journal? And then also your Task management? I really want to begin bullet journaling, but I feel I have a million lists in my head and I am not sure where to begin. Wondered if I do this and then begin the bullet journal, or if this is included on a regular bases in the bullet journals?

        1. If it’s an extremely extensive brain dump {which it sounds like yours is!}, I have a separate notebook that I scribble all sorts of messy thoughts on. Then I work through each thought and transfer it over to my Task Management List in my bullet journal. Because I do brain dumps regularly now, and don’t have as many things to write down, I’ll occasionally create a page in my bullet journal and label it brain dump, then write down all those tasks. So really, you can do it either way! But to start, I would find a scrap piece of paper or a junk notebook and start dumping all your lists there. Then you’ll have a better idea of what to transfer over to your bullet journal. Hope that helps!

        2. Hi, back when I was a highly effective person I started my brain dumps any cheap 10-cent notebook. I was on a budget and I sure wasn’t going to spend a lot of money three kids and so much responsibility. Once I got good at dumping I started working at organizing and chipping away and all my clutter and the next thing I knew I was off and running. You got this! Nobody’s ever going to see it but you! So it doesn’t have to be perfect!!

  3. I love the “brain dump” idea. I love using the traditional paper-pencil way of recording ideas and prioritizing tasks. The bullet journal is not only useful but can be a great creative outlook. Thanks for the great post!

  4. I love this system. You make something that seems so overwhelming doable and even fun (hey, I love colored pens!). I have a medical condition (chronic Lyme disease) that causes cognitive impairment and I feel like I have developed mid-life ADD. I think my solution is to create systems that I will use and break things down into smaller steps/tasks. I just got a new planner and I’m going to start with this exercise. Thanks so much!

    1. You’re so welcome. Breaking things down into doable tasks is one of the biggest keys to helping me accomplish goals and keep my priorities in line.

  5. The brain dump! Love it! I’ve definitely done this before but then I’ve never known what to do with all of the stuff on the page afterwards! I absolutely your suggestion of transferring it into 4 quadrants. This makes it so much more manageable to work from. I’ve been using a 9 square to prioritize things into different quadrants but I am very excited to try this new way!

  6. Hi Kayln, I do a brain dump whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed (often)! It just helps so much to get it all down on paper. Even if I can’t tend to it then — or even soon — I know it’s in some small way being taken care of. Especially once I get it in my planner (the next step). I admit to feeling obligated to assigning every item a date though! I have to get over the idea that just because I thought of it it needs doing!
    I’m eager to explore your blog further! Signing up!

    1. Brain dumps are such an amazing exersize. Getting all that info down onto paper not only relieves some overwhelm but also keeps me from forgetting info because it gets crammed out of my brain by new things. You’re so much better off getting this step mastered before jumping into your planning. Great work!

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