Chaos. It’s everywhere these days. Our brains are full and it doesn’t feel like there’s much we can do about it.
Around here, my family is coming off of some of the busiest days of the year. And I don’t mean Christmas.
Since my kids started school, I discovered that the end of the school year is the busiest time of the year. There’s a never ending deluge of events, field trips, parent activities and parties.
This year I didn’t even bother keeping up. I programmed everything into my calendar about a month before hand. Every day, the events that I needed to prepare for and go to popped up in the morning.
It was actually quite effective. At least I remembered where I needed to go.
It’s during these times that my mind gets messy. I feel very overwhelmed and don’t have enough space for my family’s needs let alone my business.
Time for a brain dump.
What is a brain dump?
A brain dump is a thinking detox. Just like you cleanse your body of bad foods every once and awhile, you need to sweep your brain of overwhelming thoughts.
When you have a brain dump, you unload the contents of your brain onto paper. (No awful tasting drinks necessary.) This release frees your thinking power up for other items on your to do list. The process leads to more productivity because you can focus on the items that you can control.
This is similar to how you might dump out a cluttered diaper bag or purse.
In your purse’s current state, you can never find your child’s favorite rattle when you need it. So, you dump out your purse for a quick cleaning. Only, instead of the rattle, you discover chewing gum, worn kids’ socks, loose change, used tickets and lots of less useful menagerie.
This process takes precious minutes and many times doesn’t result in how you hoped (finding the rattle).
Now let’s look at a similar situation, but your purse is clean. Your child starts crying. You look in your purse and find the rattle within a minute. The problem is solved and you move onto the next thing. Little time is wasted.
That’s what a brain dump will do. Gets rid of the extra clutter so you can find the thoughts and tasks that really matter.
When you have a brain dump, you want to identify the stresses, anxiety, things making you feel overwhelmed and massive to dos that are on your mind. Business or not business related. Doesn’t matter. Write down whatever is up there that’s making you feel foggy.
Why is a brain dump important to improve your productivity?
A brain dump is one of my favorite cleansing tools. It’s a way to take care of your brain.
By clearing your brain, you’ll be able to think again. Thoughts will be free to linger and you’ll feel relief.
It also let’s you know what you’re thinking about and what’s bothering you. Once you write something down you feel free. (I get the same sensation by writing my weekly to do list and physically crossing off the items.)
During your brain dump, you’ll identify the things that are on your mind and can now look them directly in the eye. They are no longer stuck in your brain.
When we keep things in our head and not on paper, we tend to think about them non-stop. It’s hard to move onto the next project because your thoughts are too clouded with these “other things”
After your brain dump, you can identify the things that are keeping you stuck. Not just think about them any more. Your brain is free and ready for your next ideas. And now you have the information you need to get those overwhelming tasks completed.
How to have a Successful Brain Dump
Now that you understand why you should have a brain dump, it’s time to plan one.
A brain dump can be a lot of fun, but if it’s your first one, you might be leery about jumping right in.
Start with a blank piece of paper. Y ou don’t need anything fancy. Blank copy paper will do.
But, just in case you like working with pretty stationery, I created this free printable brain dump page. There’s two sizes. The smaller size fits into more planners. Then you can keep your brain dump sheet in the back. The bigger one can work in a binder or a clipboard.
I print my brain dump sheets on medium white cardstock. Then I hole punch them in the top left corner and attach them together with a binder ring. This keeps my brain dumps together so I can reflect on my progress over time.
Once you have your brain dump paper, you need to find some quiet time. I like to do my brain dumps at the end of Friday afternoon. That way I can go into the weekend knowing everything is off of my mind.
Another great time to do a brain dump is before bed. This act of self care can help you have a better night’s sleep.
Sometimes, I set a time limit. You don’t have to, but if I’m not careful I’ll sit around dumping my brain for an hour. I usually give myself up to 15 minutes to write down everything that comes to me. Usually that’s enough time to get my thoughts on paper. If something else comes to me later on, I just add it to the list.
Brain dump completed. Everything is written down. You have a list of all the stuff that was stuck in your brain.
Time to look over your list. Read each item on the list and circle the ones that are causing you the most stress. These require action the soonest.
As you look at each item on the list, ask yourself the following questions:
Is this something I can fix or something that’s dependent on others? (If you have to wait for others to get this item off your list, there might not be a lot you can do about it.)
Do I write down this thing a lot? (This might be a sign of a bigger problem that needs a deeper solution.)
How easy is it to fix this item? Is it something that I can do quickly or do I need a lot of time? (If an item has a quick solution, you might want to get it done first.)
Does this item cause me stress just to think about? (Our human tendency is to avoid to do items that we find stressful. But when we don’t get these items completed, they continue to cause us stress – just not the kind that we can see easily. Focus on getting these items addressed quickly to relieve yourself of unnecessary stress.)
After I analyze the different items on the list, I make a plan for tackling the ones I can do something about first. Put them on your next to do list or make a plan to get them done right then. If they are short (such as making a doctor’s appointment), they should be easy to fix quickly.
Then, I work on making a plan to address the items that are causing me the most stress. These items usually don’t have any easy solution, but I make a plan on how to fix them in the future.
With every brain dump, I find some things that I can’t do anything about – at least not right away. That’s okay. You just need to accept this fact, so you can move onto other things you can fix.
Last fall, I was in the middle of a major website overhaul. My web designers were dragging their feet. Instead of taking three weeks, the entire project took about twelve.
Unfortunately, during the project, there wasn’t a lot else I could do but wait. This weighed on my mind a lot. Every week during my brain dump, I wrote down “complete website project”.
Eventually, I had to admit to myself that it was out of my control. The project would get done when it got done. I couldn’t do much about the timing.
But I knew that it was bothering me. A lot. My brain dump showed that.
Once I came to terms that it would be completed when it was finished, I stopped worrying about it. I no longer wrote it at the top of every brain dump. I waited more patiently.
Your brain dump should make your brain rest at least a little. Don’t feel like you have to solve every problem right away.
If you don’t feel like you can get any of your brain dump items off your list, walk away for awhile. Writing your brain dump list is enough. You can always come back to review the list later.
Schedule more brain dumps in the future. This regular self care maintenance is important for your productivity and success.
I aim to complete a brain dump once every two weeks, but if life is really chaotic (like the end of the school year), I’ll add them to my schedule more often. Know yourself and your needs.
And don’t think you need some formal sit at my desk and do a brain dump thing. You can easily to a quick brain dump in the school pick up line or waiting for your kids’ activity to finish.
When I’ve really needed a brain dump, I have found myself on my bathroom floor jotting things down quickly in between naps and feedings. Although not the most ideal situation, it sure made me feel better and more in control.
A brain dump is a great tool to improve your productivity and keep you focused on the things that really matter.
If you find life feels chaotic or there are things that you’re extra worried about, but aren’t sure what, it’s time for a brain dump.
Find a quiet place, write stuff down and figure out how to solve it. You’ll feel better and more prepared to tackle your next big projects. And your productivity will improve, which is great for growing your business.
If you missed it above, here are your free printable brain dump sheets. Just in case you want something a bit more formal to write your thoughts down on. I always have trouble saying no to some pretty stationery.
Have a few minutes now? This might be the perfect time to try your first brain dump. See what happens. Good luck!
I love how you compare brain dumping on paper to dumping our your purse. It’s so true! I started brain dumping last year and it has helped me tremendously. I never really considered the items more after completing the projects. I will definitely think these ongoing items that show up through more now. Thanks for the great article.
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. Brain dumping is one of my favorite activities to regain my productivity. It helps me keep everything in perspective. I’m glad that you’ve found that it helps you too. From reading your blog, it seems that you also have a lot of projects that you’re working on. Thanks again for stopping by!
Very great strategy! I’ll keep this in mind!
I love this strategy! We have something similar (which we call our “Get Sh*t Done Weekly Planner” Sheet). We list the big major projects that need attention (from our larger paper planner and from our quarterly goals). We choose the top 5 to schedule throughout the week and plan forward a few items for the week that follows. —At first, we were hesitant to limit ourselves to only 5, but since part of our problem is perpetual overwhelm, we knew that limiting what was expected would ease our minds (and it does). We feel a MAJOR sense of accomplishment at checking these items off the list each week. Thanks for reminding us how beneficial it is to take what’s in your head to help plan your time constructively.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Limiting yourself to how many to dos you tackle each week is a great way to be more productive. It lets you really focus on the things that are important. I’ve found when I add too many to dos, it is very overwhelming. There’s also a sense of disappointment if I don’t get a lot of it done. Positive vibes are so much better when building your business. Good luck in your to do list this week!
Thanks I needed that info on brain dump.
Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad the post helped. Thanks again!