Free printable brain dump worksheet. How (and why) to do a brain dump.
Get rid of brain clutter with this valuable exercise.
It’s 3:07 in the morning. I’ve been awake for over 30 minutes and about to give up, get up, and read for a bit.
What’s going through my mind? Stuff that needs done. I need to call the dermatologist for my son. I need to schedule a doctor’s appointment for me. Cheerios need added to the grocery list. Speaking of, I need to make the menu for the next week.
There is unimportant stuff hovering too. There’s this annoying black spot on the carpet that needs cleaned. I should probably reconcile the bank statements with the computer. And the grill grease bucket needs emptied before the baby dumps it on himself again.
When you have tons of items running through your brain- important and unimportant- and they’re starting to distract you, it’s time to do a brain dump.
Table of contents
Brain Dump Meaning
What is a brain dump?
A brain dump is the technique of dumping all those thoughts from your brain onto another medium, such as a sheet of paper (or computer hard drive, if you like everything digital).
Our old friend Merriam-Webster says “the act or an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas (as on a particular topic)”.
Some key concepts to note about doing a brain dump.
The first is the word uncritically. Don’t stop to worry about whether what you’re writing down is important or not. If it pops into your head that the tiny black spot on the carpet in the closet no one uses needs cleaned, write it down. It’s just as worthy as a spot on your brain dump list as making dinner tonight.
The second concept is to do your brain dump in a manner that is useful for you. “You can write your thoughts and feelings in list form, paragraphs, speech bubbles, sketches, or any other way you like” (from Develop Good Habits)
Brain Dump Benefits
You might be asking yourself “Why do a brain dump?” There are multiple benefits to doing a brain dump. (Benefits as stated by those who do them; there has only been limited scientific research done on brain dumps.)
- Helps fix exhaustion from constant mind-jumping. Aka: once all those thoughts are on a piece of paper, you spend less time worrying about them.
- Important tasks get done
- Unimportant tasks get delegated or put off as necessary (and stop cluttering up your head)
- Clear up headspace to deal with more important things.
- Reduces decision fatigue. (Especially if you prioritize your brain dump list…no more wasting time figuring out what to do next.)
- Decrease stress
- Increase productivity
How To Do a Brain Dump
Before I get to the instructions, I want to say something. There is no right or wrong way to do a brain dump. If it results in less stress for you, it worked. I’ve simply included instructions for techniques that have worked particularly well for me.
Spend anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes and write down absolutely everything that pops into your mind that needs done. Your nephew’s birthday card. Adding diced tomatoes to the grocery list. Calling the cable company to complain that your bill went up yet once again (do they think you won’t notice if they just increase it $4 a time every few months?).
Don’t worry about sorting it.
Don’t worry about if it’s actually important or not.
The goal is simply to dump all those thoughts onto a piece of paper. I have a free printable brain dump worksheet pdf below. But you can also just use a blank sheet of paper.
Most people don’t have trouble coming up with stuff. After all, if you’re doing a brain dump, it’s probably because you’re tired of the constant “you need to…” nagging voice in your head.
Once you’re done, it’s time to sort. You can do this a variety of different ways. I have some printables below to help you.
There are 4 methods below: my personal system (priority and ease), Eisenhower matrix, categorize, and prioritize. You can use any of them to help you sort your brain dump list. Because just dumping it all out of your head is only part of it. The goal is to actually get what needs done done…and what needs ignored out of your head.
Priority & Ease
The first of the 4 sorting methods, I call “priority & ease.” In this, you don’t need another sheet of paper. Just stick with the list you already made.
First, if it’s important, it gets put on your planner right away. (Grab my yearly free planner (see the Printables tab above or the very bottom of this post), which includes free weekly and daily planners.) Once it’s scheduled, cross it off the brain dump list. Whew! Don’t you feel more relaxed already?
Second, if it’s easy to take care of, take care of it right now. Adding diced tomatoes to the grocery lists takes maybe 10 seconds. So get that added. And cross that off the brain dump. Cleaning the litter box or taking out the trash takes maybe 3 minutes. Get it done and get it crossed off. If you have a ton of those “little” tasks, try to find 20 minutes to run around like crazy getting one after another done. Bam. Bam. Bam. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done if you’re focused and have a list.
But there are going to be other tasks: unimportant tasks and big goals/tasks that need broken down.
For unimportant tasks, just let them hang out on your brain dump sheet. They can take up space on paper instead of in your head.
For big goals or tasks that need broken down, you need my Free Printable Goal Workbook. There are multiple goal worksheets in there. They’ll help you break down your big goals and decide what action steps you need to take this quarter, month, and week to finally take action towards achieving that goal. Grab the goal workbook and go ahead and schedule 15-20 minutes in your planner for using the worksheets and getting that big goal planned.
The second of the sorting methods is called the Eisenhower matrix. The Eisenhower matrix is based on a quote of President Eisenhower’s. “Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, took Eisenhower’s words and used them to develop the now-popular task management tool known as the Eisenhower Matrix. (Asana)”
I’m going to be doing an entire post on the Eisenhower matrix in the future. But very quickly, you sort your to-do list based on two concepts: urgency and importance.
Urgency refers to how urgent a task is. Whether it requires your immediate attention or not.
Importance refers to how important a task is. Important tasks are those that contribute to your long-term goals or well-being.
All tasks fall under one of four categories: 1) urgent and important; 2) not urgent and important; 3) urgent and not important; 4) not urgent and not important.
To sort, go through your brain dump list and put each task in the category that seems accurate.
Once they’re sorted,
-do the tasks that are urgent and important.
-schedule the tasks that important, but not urgent.
-delegate the tasks that are urgent, but not important.
-delete the tasks that are not urgent and not important.
There is a worksheet below specifically designed for this.
The third of the sorting methods is to categorize your to-do list.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Pick some categories that work for your life. They might include some of the following: work, personal, chores, errands, organizing, household, kids, miscellaneous.
Now, sort everything on your brain dump list into your categories. If you want to go a step further, you can prioritize each of the categories so you’re attacking the most important first.
The fourth and last of the sorting methods is to prioritize it.
There are two ways to prioritize. I suggest the more simple method. Your levels are: 1 (most important), 2 (medium importance), and 3 (least important). Next to every single task, give it a number.
Then you attack all the level 1 stuff first. If you get that all done, then work on the #2 tasks.
A slightly more complicated method is numbering everything you list. Whether that’s 1-10 or 1-40 is based on how big your list is. I suggest only picking out the most important. Don’t waste time trying to figure out issues past 20….because they’re either not THAT important or your life is so overwhelming that I can’t help you. (haha).
Free Printable Brain Dump Worksheet
Technically, you can easily use a blank sheet of paper for a brain dump. That’s how I did my first few. However, the worksheets below are designed to help you.
• Print options: regular paper works just fine.
• All of the files are in pdf below. Just hit the “download” button (or pink word “download,” depending upon browser).
• The default size of these is full-page. However, if you want smaller, simply reduce the print size. If you’re not sure on how much to reduce, check out my post “How to Resize Printables to Fit Your Planner.”
I hope you found this post about how to do a brain dump, why to do a brain dump, and free printable brain dump worksheets helpful.
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Also feel free to comment telling me which worksheet you liked best. Thanks!