How to Clear Your Mind with a Brain Dump
I’ve wished for a real-life pensieve since reading The Goblet of Fire for the first time. I remember feeling very surprised at the fact that Harry couldn’t relate to Dumbledore saying “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”
Even at eleven/twelve years old, I remember sometimes feeling like there were just way too many thoughts and ideas running through my head. I’ve always been an overthinker, and my mom loves to remind me that I was born an old soul and loved to overanalyze things since I could talk.
It’s safe to say that my mind hasn’t changed a whole lot. I still like to overthink and overanalyze, and having the added responsibilities of… well, being an adult, means that I also sometimes find myself feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
You probably saw me mention “brain dumping” quite a few times here on the blog. It’s one of my favorite tools that help me stay productive and get things done. To me, it’s also an act of self-care as it can help identify and master my emotions, find stressors and gain clarity.
If you sometimes find that your brain is clouded with too many thoughts, ideas, plans for the future or worries, and you have a hard time focusing, a brain dump can help.
HOW TO CLEAR YOUR MIND WITH A BRAIN DUMP
What exactly is a brain dump?
The idea behind brain dumping is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s getting stuff out of your head and freeing up some of that mental energy. It’s also very helpful in terms of productivity, goal tracking and time management.
You can use it as a tool to de-clutter your mind and eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed. Or, you can make it a part of your self-care routine if journaling isn’t your thing. With brain dumping, you can get those thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper, which will allow you to see everything in more detail and process it all in an organized way. So… kind of like a real-life pensieve, eh?
HOW DO I DO IT?
The first step is to start writing things down. Anything and everything that is on your mind. The important, and often most difficult part, is actually finding the time to do it. You need to schedule some time to sit down with a notebook and a pen, or a tablet/laptop. I personally have to use pen and paper, as I find that it just makes the whole process feel more natural and allows it to flow easily.
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to do this, so I will talk about how it works for me. Usually, my brain dumping sessions include writing down what’s on my mind, what’s bothering me or causes stress. I write down things I want to try, things I need to remember or get done- pretty much anything that pops into my head. These are usually some of these things:
- phone calls/emails I need to return or reply to
- work tasks or projects that need to be finished
- appointments I need to make, confirm or reschedule
- meal planning + grocery list for the week
- blog post ideas and any photography that I need to get done
- recipes I want to try
- big purchase items I want to research or review
- any photos I need to organize and print
- things that I’m stressing or worrying about
- any special occasions or events that are coming up (weddings, birthdays, etc.) and gifts or cards that I need to buy
- things that I need to plan like weekend activities, dinners with friends/family, vacations
You can use this Incompletion Trigger List by David Allen to help refresh some of the ideas you might have had on your mind. Here’s a very important thing to remember when you sit down and brain dump: let it all flow. Write down everything that comes to your mind first. Don’t worry about organizing your thoughts or ideas, about being neat or too sloppy, don’t stop to analyze or process anything you’re writing down. Once you can’t come up with anything else, you stop. In my experience, this process can be very simple, or very involved. Some days I will fill out just a single page, other times when I have a lot going on, my list can take as much as 4-5 pages.
If this is something you haven’t tried before, this point is where you’ll notice the first benefit of brain dumping. You will feel lighter, your mind will feel more clear and focused. It’s just like creating all this extra room in your brain. When doing this at times when you feel very overwhelmed, you will also feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
ORGANIZING + PROCESSING
As we’ve already established, there is no right or wrong way to perform a brain dump. You can just create your list and leave it at that. This alone can be enough to relieve stress and overwhelm. I like to take some time to organize and process everything I’ve written down and I recommend you try doing the same.
During the next step, I put everything from my list in order. Usually, most things will fall under categories such as
- to-do + errands
- home, and so on
You can use different colored highlighters for marking everything right on the list or create a customized worksheet where you’ll organize all of your ideas. Anything that is work-related will go in a separate category, all errands will be grouped together. I also scan my list for any tasks that absolutely need to get done and separate those too.
Another thing to remember: not everything you’ve written down will have a place to belong. Some of the thoughts or ideas you will write down won’t include any near-future goals, and some things won’t make sense at all. If something doesn’t make sense, feel free to just cross it off. When you’re writing down everything that comes to your mind, it’s normal for some things to be random or weird. Anything else that doesn’t belong can be put in a “to review later” category since it’s not connected to any immediate goals or plans.
At this point, you can step away and come back to your list at a later time. Once you’re ready to process your brain dump, take a closer look at the categories you’ve created. I will usually start with my errands and add them to my planner or create a to-do list (or two, depending on how much I have going on). Any upcoming events will get marked up in my calendar and any purchases tied to those events will get a separate shopping list. Things that can be easily done right away, I’ll get out of the way. Everything else will be planned out and scheduled for later. This process is basically organizing all those messy thoughts, goals, tasks and feelings, and creating a plan to accomplish and complete them. Maybe you’ll notice that you wrote down a few things that are causing stress or worry? Think about some things that you can do to get rid of or minimize those stressors.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I DO IT?
As often as you need to. If you find yourself being very busy, overwhelmed or stressed on a regular basis, you should do a brain dump whenever you feel all those things starting to build up. The frequency should depend on your schedule and needs. Once a week is usually a good place to start. From there you can see if this is something you find the need to do more often than just once a week, maybe you’ll find that sitting down once a month will be enough.
A FEW EXTRA TIPS
- Use pen and paper for creating your list. As I already mentioned, this helps the process feel much more natural and keeps everything flowing smoothly. You can use just a regular notebook or even a piece of paper for the first part of your brain dumping session. I love hoarding pretty notebooks and planners and usually like to keep things neat and pretty, but being neat should be the last thing to worry about when creating your list. I can’t live without these gel pens. I’m picky about these things and they make a whole process more enjoyable, they’re very smooth, comfortable and easy on the hands.
- Don’t worry about your handwriting! My handwriting can get all messy and ugly even when I’m not in a hurry and it’s one of my least favorite things about myself that I just find mildly annoying. If this is something you can relate to, don’t allow it to stop the flow of writing down everything that comes to your mind.
- Avoid overwhelm. The whole idea behind brain dumping is to get rid of the mess, not to add more. If after creating your list you feel like processing it right away feels like too much, come back to it at a later time.
- Use a planner that meets your needs. I love using planners, but I’m not always extremely consistent in keeping track of my goals or plans. This is my favorite daily planner– I like it because you can customize dates so you’re never wasting any pages. It also has room for daily goals and to-do lists, which is very handy when processing and organizing your brain dump list. An extra bonus is that comes in a few very pretty patterns.