What is a brain dump and can it help me when feeling overwhelmed? Should you do a brain dump onto paper, in a journal or can you type it up?
If you’re anything like us, the lump of fat and salt water that sits inside your skull can sometimes be a mess. You can feel overwhelmed like you’re drowning in too many to-dos, unsure about where to start or what to do.
Thoughts get jumbled and suddenly you can remember your high-school locker combination. But the details of this afternoon’s Zoom meeting or the time and date of your next doctor’s appointment are suddenly lost in the aether.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just dump it out like the junk drawer in your kitchen, making it easier to sort through everything you’ve stuffed in there?
That is precisely what a brain dump does.
What is a brain dump, and how do you do one? Continue reading this post for what these practices do and how they can help you make sense of the random thoughts rattling around inside your skull.
What Is a Brain Dump?
Unfortunately, dumping your brain out like an overstuffed junk drawer isn’t an option – at least not physically. Instead, we have the concept of a brain dump. What is meant by a brain dump?
The accepted dictionary definition of a brain dump is the process of recording or otherwise expressing one’s ideas and thoughts, both exhaustively and without judgment.
The most important part is “without judgment.” The temptation is always there to criticize everything we put down on paper, journaling, or type into a Google Doc because we’re always our own worst critics. Unfortunately, that defeats the purpose of the brain dump. If you start criticizing what you’re writing, you’re not going to write everything down and get it out of your head.
Think of brain dumps as a tool for defragmenting your brain like you would a computer hard drive. Getting everything down on paper or in a digital word processor makes sorting through and processing all those displaced fragments easier.
Questions and Concepts Associated With Brain Dumps
There are lots of questions, concepts, and techniques associated with brain dumps. Here are some that you should be familiar with as you embark on this process.
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“Is Brain Dumping Good?”
The answer to this question is subjective, but most people who do regular brain dumps would agree that, yes, brain dumps are useful and productive.
“What Is a Brain Dump List?”
A brain dump list is a list that you create during a brain dump. Once it’s on paper, making sense of all your stray thoughts is a lot easier.
“How Long Should a Brain Dump Take?”
It all depends on the person. Your first brain dump might take a while, but once you get into the habit of dropping all your inner thoughts down on paper, you could potentially complete a daily brain dump in a few minutes.
How To Do A Brain Dump
#1. Brain Dump Apps
Many tools are available for brain dumping, including apps designed specifically for that purpose. Make sure you hunt down one that works for your device’s operating system.
#2. Brain Dump Worksheet
Sometimes, you need a template to get you started. Hunt down a free worksheet to help you outline what you’re trying to accomplish with your brain dump.
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#3. Bullet Journaling Brain Dump
Need a more creative and artistic spin? Create a new spread inside your bullet journal. Make it as simple or as intricate as you need it to be.
#4. Brain Dump Trigger List
“The only problem is, I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten!” – Neville Longbottom.
If your brain dump seems to stall out, a trigger list might help. These lists are designed with vague keywords that might ignite a spark in your brain to remind you of the things you’ve forgotten.
Brain Dump Examples
Brain dumps can be incredibly personal, so we’re not going to copy and paste anyone’s brain dump here. Instead, some examples might include:
- Writing whatever comes to mind first thing in the morning before you’ve had a chance to wake up, get coffee, or turn on your phone. This early morning brain dump helps to remove any clutter that might be floating around in your mind after a good night’s sleep.
- Studying and writing down everything you remember on the topic without looking at your notes or textbooks. Writing things longhand helps them stick in your brain and gives you a clearer picture of what you know and what you still need to work on.
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- Try a four-square brain dump. Draw a box with four squares in it on your paper. Label them with “Thoughts,” “To-do,” “Gratitude,” and “Priorities.” Then, go back to each box and fill them in.
- An end-of-the-week brain dump is where you take the time to write down everything that’s on your mind from the entire week. This could include anything from unresolved problems or uncompleted tasks to random things that cross your mind while writing.
- A spiritual brain dump is where you sort through all your feelings about your personal spiritual wellness, regardless of your beliefs. This brain dump can be useful if you feel you’re having a crisis of faith or aren’t sure where your path is pointing you.
These examples are just a few of the different types of brain dumps.
Making a Dedicated Brain Dump Journal
While you can brain dump on any spare scrap of paper, if you’re feeling a bit artistic or crafty, you might want to consider making a dedicated brain dump journal. That way, when you decide it’s time for a brain dump, you don’t have to worry about scrambling to find something to write on.
Your dedicated brain dump journal can be as fancy or as simple as you like. Design your pages with stickers, printouts, or images cut from magazines, scrapbook-style. Create elaborate spreads with fancy hand lettering or calligraphy. Or, just scribble with a BIC pen in a $0.25 one-subject notebook from Walmart.
The details of your brain dump journal don’t matter. What’s important is that you have somewhere to write down all your thoughts. The decorative details are entirely up to you.
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Brain Dump Benefits
What are the benefits of dumping out your brain’s metaphorical junk drawer? They can vary from person to person, but a brain dump’s primary benefit is that it gets all your thoughts out on paper. From there, braindumps can help:
- Improves focus and productivity because you’ve got a clearer picture of what you need to complete, so you’re not grasping at straws.
- Increases the chances that you’ll remember important information because, as we pointed out above, writing longhand helps improve memory retention.
- Keeps you from forgetting important dates, times, or appointments. Missing a doctor’s appointment can be costly if the office charges cancellation or missed appointment fees.
- Gives you a place to put all the things that might distract you during the day.
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- Enables your problem-solving skills because all the puzzle pieces are now laid out visibly, instead of trying to keep track of all those errant thoughts as they float around in your head.
- Reduces the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Improves your physical health, as stress and anxiety can accelerate physical aging and lead to heart problems, headaches, and more.
- Make it easier to build or maintain habits and routines, especially for neurodivergent individuals who find it difficult to manage.
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What Should Be in a Brain Dump?
You may be asking yourself: How do brain dumps work? What would I include in my brain dump?
The answer isn’t something we can provide. Every person is different, so there’s no one way to do an effective brain dump. Sure, there are plenty of tutorials, worksheets, and apps on the internet to get you started, but when it comes down to brass tacks, your brain dump is wholly your own.
Brain dumps are similar to other kinds of personalizable home remedies in that there are plenty of options but no end-all-be-all list of things that should or shouldn’t be in your brain dump. That’s the whole point. If it’s in your brain, it should be in your brain dump. This could include but isn’t limited to:
- Random thoughts
- Things you’re worried about
- Upcoming appointments
- To-do lists
- Chores you need to complete
- Uncompleted projects or tasks
- Books you want to read
- Movies or television shows you want to watch
- People you want or need to call or text
- Grocery lists
- Meal planning ideas
- Bullet journal spreads
- Christmas card lists
- Upcoming trips
- Birthdays you don’t want to forget
Your brain dump might look a lot like this. It might also look entirely different. The point isn’t to make something pretty that you can share on Instagram. It’s to get all those random thoughts out of your head so you can turn them into something functional.
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Brain Dump for Anxiety, Depression, Stress, or ADHD
Everyone – neurotypical and neurodivergent alike – can benefit from brain dumping. Still, those who fall anywhere on the neurodivergent spectrum can put these practices to use to improve and maintain their mental health.
Mental health professionals might introduce you to brain dumping as a coping mechanism. It’s especially helpful for individuals with anxiety or those prone to overthinking. When you brain dump for anxiety or depression, you’re removing the thoughts you might be prone to overthinking about.
It isn’t a replacement for therapy or professional mental health intervention. Still, it can be an incredible coping mechanism to help you at the moment when anxious thoughts threaten to overwhelm you.
For those with ADHD, disjointed or chaotic thoughts are often the norm, which can negatively impact productivity in a traditional office setting. Conventional brain dumps can help, but that doesn’t always impact the thoughts that can show up randomly throughout the day.
Park Your Thoughts on Paper
That’s where the “parking lot” brain dump style comes into play. Essentially, you set up a blank page or notebook next to your workstation. If something pops into your mind that you need to remember, write it down in your “parking lot” and forget about it.
At the end of the day, you can go over your parking lot and categorize your random thoughts like you would any other brain dump. This way, you don’t forget anything important that might occur to you during the day, but the intrusion of these random thoughts doesn’t derail your productivity.
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How Often Should You Brain Dump?
How often do you think you could benefit from emptying the junk drawer in your kitchen? For most people, that drawer gets forgotten until, once or twice a year, you need something that might be hidden away in its fathomless depths.
Unfortunately, this is where our “brain = junk drawer” metaphor falls a bit short. Brain dumping once or twice a year might help you for a few days at a time, but it will not have a lasting effect.
The answer to this question will depend on you and your needs.
- Some people benefit from a daily brain dump, either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.
- Others may benefit more from a weekly brain dump, making sense of everything you need to do in the week or everything you completed in the past seven days.
As with most things where a brain dump is concerned, it will not be one-size-fits-all. Adjust and tweak your approach to fit your needs. Setting up your first brain dump will involve a lot of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to experiment and figure out what works best for you.
Try Your First Brain Dump Today
Sitting down to carry out your first brain dump might seem intimidating. Remember to be patient and uncritical toward yourself.
No one will see or judge your brain dump except you, so make sure you approach the practice with honesty and an open mind. Stick your inner critic in a box and throw away the key if it will help silence them.
Accomplish Your To-Dos with the Workbook
Ready to organize your brain dump into actionable to-dos? Get your FREE Printable Crush your To-Do workbook.
Try a brain dump today. Sit down in front of some paper and write down whatever comes to mind. You might be surprised by the results. A good brain dump routine can help you sort through all those jumbled thoughts in your head and turn them into something productive.
And don’t be afraid to tweak or modify anything we’ve mentioned above to create a practice that benefits you. Few things in this world are one-size-fits-all, including brain dumps.What should be in a brain dump? What is a daily brain dump? Click here to learn all about brain dumps, how they work and why you need to do one right now by @revivalist_mag. #MentalHealth #Anxiety #Overwhelm #GoodHabits
What is a brain dump for you? What do you do?
More About Guest Contributor
Cora Gold has a passion for living life to the fullest and exploring her experiences through her writing. She’s the Editor-in-Chief for women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist.com.
Last Updated on November 2, 2022