Fight Overwhelm with a Brain Dump

Posted October 13, 2016 by Thirty-Something Angie in Business & Productivity / 23 Comments

 I've found that a great way to help me fight overwhelm and organize the thoughts in my head is to brain dump.  It's a really silly name for a highly effective productivity tool!

Sometimes, there’s just too much going on in your head. At least, that’s how I feel some days (okay, a lot of days).  When this happens, it makes it hard to know where to start in order to get things done.  I’ve found that a great way to help me fight overwhelm is to brain dump.  It’s a really silly name for a highly effective productivity tool! If you’ve never tried this technique before, you should read on so you can try it next time you feel overwhelmed.

What is a Brain Dump?

Like I said above, brain dumping is a really silly name for a simple, yet effective task.  It is a time that you take to figuratively “dump” all of the extra thoughts out of your head, so that you can concentrate and make sense of it all.  You might find this effective if:

  • You have a really busy week and keep losing track of every little thing you need to do.
  • That to-do list has gotten so long you have given up.
  • You’re really stressed out by being pulled in too many directions.

I find that when I get too overwhelmed, I can’t figure out where to start.  I end up sitting on the couch, unable to make a decision, and just stress about all of the time I’m wasting, instead of actually doing something productive.  This is usually the perfect time to try this technique.

Related: 5 Reasons to Walk Away from Things not Serving You

What You Need

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This is an incredibly simple technique, that requires very little.  You don’t need a fancy planner or bullet journal.  It’s not very effective to pretty up the pages with doodles or wash tape, either.

You probably already have everything you need on hand.

  • A simple notebook (I have these everywhere to jot down thoughts)
  • A pen (these are my very favorite)
  • Coffee (totally optional, but I can’t function without it, so it’s always on my list).

Once you have gathered your supplies, all you really need is a hard surface, so that you can write, and (if you can) a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Related: Your Planner Isn’t Helping You Get More Done

How to Brain Dump

The trick to a successful brain dump is to not think too much about what you’re doing.  Don’t try to write in your neatest handwriting, or stop and think about what makes the most sense.  Think of it as if you were playing that “first word that pops into your head” game and just run through everything as fast as you can.

Your original list won’t be organized, or neat, or pretty.  It will most likely be chicken scratch, and a little bit of gibberish, but that’s okay.  We’ll come back to that, later.  The important thing right now is to empty your brain, as quickly as you can so you can stop feeling overhwhelmed and actually get something done.  If you really stop to think, it’s more likely that you’ll forget something and start stressing out again.

Organize Your List

See, I told you we’d come back to that list.  This step is really important for me.  Unless I’ve organized my thoughts, I still can’t make sense of them.  (I mean, I still outline my blog posts, if that tells you anything!)  Now, it’s time to come back and re-write your list in a neat and orderly fashion.  If you want to, this is where you can break out the different colored pens to help differentiate between categories for your tasks (home, school, kids, etc). That’s totally optional, though.

On a new sheet of paper, or maybe even a new page in your bullet journal, you can now start making sense of the gibberish you wrote on your first list.  One by one, put each task on your new list, in it’s new place based on how you want to organize it.  Scratch it off the first list as you go, so that you don’t accidentally write it twice. Continue in this fashion until every item on your list has a place.

The way you organize your list will be unique to you.  I like to break mine into categories, and then include a category for top priorities.  I’ll have separate columns for tasks for the house, tasks for my business, and tasks for the kids.

Once that’s done, I create a seperate list of things that are most important so I can do those first.

This tends to be a little over board for some people though, so do what works best for you!

Brain Dump

Related: 5 Reasons You Might be Failing at Productivity

Get to Work

Now it’s time to get to work! As you finish one task on your list, you’ll be able to move on to the next without needing to stop and think about what’s most important.  A brain dump is a great way to fight overwhelm and be more productive when you need it most.

Love organization?  I’ve got more where this came from! Check these out:

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23 responses to “Fight Overwhelm with a Brain Dump

  1. Great article! I’ve heard of this technique before but you explained it so well. I love the idea of categorizing before rewriting the neat list.
    Thanks for the info!

  2. Elizabeth

    This is one of the best ideas I’ve seen in a long time!
    Thank you!
    Being a retired educator and homemaker I can see my priority list changing frequently.♥️

    • Cheryl Ruchardson

      I really like your idea of brain dumping. I’ve actually started some of mine. With just a pen and a piece of paper. And yes, it is gibberish, but I’m going to put it together and organization my way thank you so much for your ideas. It really helps.

  3. Fanny Smith

    That may be true to those who understand ” things.” First we must be an example to all around us. What are the “things” I could do that are more important.
    Spending the time to do a foot soak , Shave your legs or do your nails. the list is endless. Create family projects. we would be surprised to find out what’s going on with our children .I love this quote. My hope is that as a mother. I taught my children what’s important in this life,

  4. This technique is also known as “Mind Sweep”. Which means that you sweep your mind from random thoughts and to do’s on a piece of paper. Once you write all the possible things on possible then you can proceed with prioritizing them.

  5. Dearest Angie,
    I accidentally came across this when I was going for a package of tissues to wipe away the tears…..So i cannot tell you what this means to me. When I saw the title ” “”””BRAIN DUMP””” I WAS SO TAKEN BACK I forgot all about the tears!! I am going through the absolute worst time in my life. Suddenly I am ALONE…AND RAISING 2 VERY DEMANDING TEENAGERS. DID I MENTION ALONE! A SINGLE MOTHER SINGLE INCOME SI MOTHER SUDDEN SINGLE HOMEMAKER SINGLE TAXI DRIVER SINGLE LAWNCARE PROVIDE SINGLE ENCOURAGER SINGLE HOUSEKEEPER SINGLE BILLPAYER SINGLE COOK SINGLE GUIDER SINGLE SINGLE SINGLE… I think you get my point. I needed to obviously get that off my chest! I read your post and i hope and pray that i can really givee this a shot. I hesitate because i do over think every single thought it least 3 or 4 times. So for me to do a task quickly and easily sounds…well.
    Too easy ?? If that makes sense. Anyway. I see many things on here that i need. But i am going into this already with ny negative attitude( my specialty). I want to make this work for me because i am so desperate..all kidding aside. My depression is slowly creeping up. . .i dont want to go down that path..especislly alone now.
    I would VERY MUCH APPRECIATE A SHORT REPLY ( if at all possible) just for a last minute positive thought .perhaps?? I will hopefully be around some. Thank you for this very HELPFUL TOOL! I JUST HOPE I CAN DO IT! ANY ADVICE OR THOUGHTS PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SEND ANY!

    Hope ( Hopeless a little lately) from being so completely overwhelmed with so many thoughts all at once and with no where to start!

    God bless you.

  6. kimmie

    Seriously have sooooooooo many plain ole spiral notebooks and soooooooo much stuff flashing through my brain!!! ?

    • Christina Tranberg

      I like your ideas in this blog. I too am very overwhelmed with many responsibilities and priorities. Sometimes I don’t know what to do next. Please let me know how to access this material?

  7. I have a very complex life and have been neglecting things because I don’t know how to organize the things I have to do, it is simply overwhelming thing. I am a senior of 70 years old, I live alone…so I don’t have any close friends that understand…so I am left with no one to help me around my apt.

    I am a very active person with some limitations as far as health is concerned, I have so many planners but never get around to stating them but this morning I came across a pin in Pinterest that lead me to your site. PRAISE God for saving me…YOU ! were the answer to my prayers..

    Thank you so much for explaining things so well, now I can finally start and finish what I have to accomplish…

  8. I have used this method for many years and don’t know how I would function without it. One additional tip: I put a big O by the items that are outside the house so when I go out to run errands I pick up the O’s and I have my list of errands ready to go. Thanks for sharing. I know others will be helped by the info. I call my brain dump my running to do list or RTDL.

  9. Great idea! The only secret I learned from my first job was making use of a pen and paper.
    See, when you write something, you’ll have to remember it faster compared to only memorizing or thinking about it and proceeding with some other tasks.
    Second, when you write, you can revisit your paper and prioritize on the tasks you should carry out first.
    The key secret is setting your mind at the start of every day! Thank you for sharing this great piece of advice.

  10. jj

    this is also referred to as mind mapping and its the greatest advice ive read and actually tried myself.i give it 5 stars this is very beneficial

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