Lifestyle Organization

How, When & Why I Love Brain-Dumping

HOW when and why i love to brain dump

I know the feeling. You’ve got 7,494 things you KNOW you need to be addressing – some personal, some you’ve been avoiding for months (maybe even years?!) and then there’s the list for work too. Right?! There’s stuff you’ve GOT to do urgently and then there’s also the things you probably should be doing, but can’t find the time to commit to doing them. Believe it or not, I feel this way all the time. And it can be SO overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzing to the point where you don’t do anything at all. Know what I mean?

When I feel like this, the only thing that makes me feel better and usually a little bit more motivated to actually do something is to do a thorough brain dump –  where I write #AllTheThings down. For me, when I’m feeling the most overwhelmed, the last thing I’m thinking about is that I need to brain dump. I’m usually feeling discouraged and my mind has probably already ventured down the path of negativity. Because that’s what it does. But the thing is, when I’m mindful about doing a brain dump and getting everything out of my mind – literally the minute I start feeling anxious or overwhelmed – it helps, TREMENDOUSLY! Like, one of the best things I can ever do for myself, and I bet y’all would feel the same.

Since this simple exercise has been so helpful for me, I wanted to officially write a post about them.

So hello, welcome to my post on brain dumps. Hopefully this all resonates with y’all like it does with me.

Let’s break it down.

What exactly is a brain dump?

A brain dump is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s taking pen to paper and getting all your thoughts OUT of your brain. It’s a release and it’s also you facing facts. It’s taking every thing you’re worrying about, questioning, feeling, needing to do, and organizing those thoughts OUT of your brain and putting them somewhere ELSE.

It’s taking the things that you think about DAILY but don’t ever do out of your mind and creating a game plan for them. It’s basically a time to organize your thoughts, which we’ll get more into. Intrigued yet?

What triggers a brain dump?

Most of us have a tendency to let things build up and procrastinate – whether it’s big tasks (doing your taxes) or small ones that you need to do every single week (the laundry). And once you’ve got enough things built up, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. How could you not? It’s easy to look the other way or postpone your to-do list, or even how you’re feeling. And this is when it’s clear that a brain dump is necessary.

These will probably look slightly different for everyone, but for the most part, I think certain stressors – or events leading up to a brain dump session – are common. Here are times when I notice my brain getting way too full and stressed over and over:

  • When I need to pay bills or set up things like a 401K – aka finances in general
  • When my schedule is jam-packed
  • Before I’m traveling – even if it’s a personal, fun vacation
  • When life is feeling out of balance – maybe I haven’t been taking the best care of myself and feeling blah
  • After an argument or when I’m randomly (or not so randomly) feeling emotional for whatever reason
  • When my house is a mess or unorganized (hi, closet all the time)
  • When I have a lot of deadlines for work
  • When I have a lot of random tasks on my to-do list that I’m avoiding (even if they aren’t super important or “big”)
  • Sunday nights

I’m sure there are other times I’m in need of a brain dump, but again, those are just some common ones. Figuring out my triggers, and physically writing them out like that, is helpful on its own, honestly, so I’d suggest doing it. Noticing the pattern of when you feel overwhelmed is a powerful tool and it might help offset some of the stress. It helps you be more self-aware, which is always a good thing in my opinion.

My Ultimate How To Guide for doing an effective Brain Dump

The beauty of brain dumps is they can be as simple or intricate as you need. Simply writing things out before bedtime, or everything you need to do or are thinking of, can be therapeutic enough. I notice that this is usually OK for me when I just have a few things swirling around or when I can’t sleep. But for the times where I’m really feeling out of control (life wise), I need to put more effort into my brain dumps. Here’s how:

Start writing everything down

I mean it when I say EVERYTHING. Grab a pen and paper or your computer (and fave note-taking app) and just write down everything you’ve  been thinking about and clogging up your head. Don’t hold back and don’t limit yourself. Cover everything you need to do, should do, have thought about doing, should think about doing, anything and everything without any sort of priority. What is bugging you? What is distracting you? What are you most dreading? What do you feel like you should be thinking about doing? What is necessary? What is important? Urgent? Write it all down. Let yourself be random and unorganized.

Add Some Order

After I’ve spent some time just letting myself go (writing down anything and everything), I’ll then start over on a new page and start to think in categories. It’s different every time but a lot of the time it looks a little something like this: MUST DO, personal stuff, errands, important but not urgent, emails to respond to, later things, etc. (again, this is always changing!)

For the first go round, you just want to get everything out. Then keep writing, but start to think in “groupings” like I mentioned above. It might be more helpful to think of it as personal, work, house-related, friends, weddings, errands, etc. Or whatever works for you!

Try to go in some sort of order so that your brain isn’t jumping all over the place. First write down everything at the forefront of your brain and then start going through different domains of your life and writing things down as they pertain to that area – such as self-care, deadlines, stuff at work or related to a particular client, house things, etc.

Step away + Schedule Time to Come Back to It

Now that you’ve gotten everything out on paper, take a minute to do something else to get your brain off of it for a bit. But keep it near you so that as you think of new things, you can add to it. Instead of letting those thoughts derail your focus from your current task, just write it down on the “I’ll do it later or think about it later list.” I literally keep my notepad in my purse at all times.

Schedule a half day or a few hours (usually ends up being a weekend day, but you gotta do what you gotta do!) shortly after your brain dump session to start organizing your list, prioritizing, and then actually handling things and crossing them off.

Organize Your List

Circle anything that you can handle THAT designated day, which is usually a lot, and just do it. These are usually the “easy wins” for me and things that I can just GET out of my head and be DONE with! Go put you laundry in, send that thank you note, email someone back, organize all the errands you have and head out for a few hours, etc. You got this!

For the things that you can’t do that day, prioritize them and mark in your calendar, right then and there. Give them a space in your life to actually address them or get rid of them. You can always keep a “someday” list if deleting them gives you anxiety (it does for me, ha!). But the point is that you want to simplify your list and be able to focus on as few things as possible. Trust me, it will help you be more productive. Even if you want to (eventually) do ALL the things – you’ve got to be able to do one thing at a time.

For the things that are emotional or more personal (feeling blah about your weight or your closet is a disaster), schedule things that will help: sign up for a class, go to the store for healthy food, schedule time to clean out your closet and whatever else you think might help.

The act of writing everything out – the brain dump – is super helpful, but unless you take the time to assess what needs to be done, you’ll find yourself in brain dump situations far too often. Same thoughts, over and over. No thanks!

Why do I love brain dumps?

Let me tell you… there is NOTHING better than after you do a brain dump and start knocking things off that list. NOTHING! It’s one of the best self-care practices I’ve ever done for myself and the feeling afterwards is like nothing else. Peaceful, inspiring, strong. I just love it y’all. It’s really one of the only ways I’ve found to handle anxiety pretty much right away – and I’ve tested a lot of things. I look at the fact that my life usually gets organized as the icing on top, but for me, this is mainly about mental clarity.

Do any of y’all do a form of brain dumping?

What does your technique look like? What are your triggers? I’d love to hear so I know I’m not alone here :)


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  • Reply
    January 30, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    I love lists, but I’m not super into notepads so I usually email myself with reminders and add them to my Google calendar. I keep a separate tasks list on my calendar for things that I need to/want to do at a later date and then every day I move along the tasks that I plan to do that day and if I don’t get to them, I just move them to the next day. Checking things off my “list” is the best feeling ever! I also color coordinate my personal life and work life which helps too!

  • Reply
    January 29, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    LOVE brain dumping. I actually do it every. single. day. It’s part of my morning routine and absolutely NECESSARY to making sure I have a productive day. I keep one notebook (a 5×7 soft cover moleskine) that I carry around with me everywhere that contains all my lists. It’s seriously the most important thing in my purse – and any time I feel overwhelmed, I just take out that notebook and write it all down. And *confession* sometimes I write things down I’ve already accomplished because it reminds me that I CAN and HAVE done something productive with my day. Such an amazing feeling to cross things off! Even if it’s something smal like “get the mail” or “prep dinner.”

  • Reply
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    […] manifestation book, however, I wanted something specifically dedicated to writing out my feelings, brain dumping, and life recording. I was going to go to A.C. Moore to purchase one of their $5 journals, but I […]

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  • Reply
    November 2, 2017 at 7:59 am

    I’m a huge list maker and if I don’t have things on paper I’ll most likely forget them. I remember you mentioning this so I just came back to it and I’m going to do my first brain dump today! I sometimes feel silly writing little things down that I should definitely NOT forget (or maybe just get lazy and don’t want to clean the bathroom after I get home from work), so writing those little things down is going to be new. I’m hoping it will hold me more accountable for the big and small things too! Thanks for sharing this xoxo

  • Reply
    Stormy Stevens
    October 24, 2017 at 5:31 am

    I use Morning Pages (From Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”) and what I call my “Random Thoughts.” Anything and everything, not just to do list things, come out during these sessions. Yes, they help tremendously! Thanks for the great article! I’m going to try this system!

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Great post ! Thank you this was very helpful.

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    […] the list (I did a whole post on how I do this – I call it a “brain dump”) and prioritizing it will help. Knowing you have […]

  • Reply
    July 20, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    I do that every time I feel overwhelmed. I didn’t know it had a name! I love using an old school notebook, there something satisfying and relaxing about physically putting things down on paper.

  • Reply
    Natalie Ann Redman
    July 17, 2017 at 5:36 am

    I love a good brain dump. You can almost feel all those to do lists weighing you down, evaporate! I love using wunderlist.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I do this activity using a mind mapping utility. Makes the organizing SO much easier! FreePlane for my computer, MindManager on my phone. I use this for my daily & weekly “to do” lists. What I love is IF I don’t get an errand done one day, it’s easy to move it to the next day!

  • Reply
    Lori Jones
    July 16, 2017 at 8:08 am

    As a teacher and mom, I am definitely going for this!! Thanks for detailed ideas/instructions – can’t wait to alleviate some stress and anxiety!!

  • Reply
    Cynthia Wall
    July 15, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Hi, and thanks for your posting. I do a similar process that I call “cleaning my mental garage”. I start by naming objects or processes that claim the most time, or are the most critical when left undone. I start with the word CAR and then mind storm everything that could be checked or needed to be done to make my car clean and safe. Then one by one I list the names of people near and dear to me, and name the things I need to say or do or work on with them. My list can include major issues such as long-term finances, health, and creative projects. For me, it’s all about naming the next small step that moves each project forward.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Thank you for sharing! On a side note–Love your Blog and your Instagram/Stories–you are a breath of fresh air! Have a great day!!

  • Reply
    Sushma Manava
    July 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    I love writing aka brain dumps. It makes me feel accomplished immediately :P

  • Reply
    Pat Robinson
    July 13, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Helpful! Good thoughts, Brighton. Thank you for being a helper to so many.

  • Reply
    Amanda Jean
    July 11, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I think I’ve done this (because I’m obsessed with lists), but without ever calling it a “brain dump” — it’s nice to have a term to put to the process! What are you favorite list apps?

    • Reply
      Brighton Keller
      July 11, 2017 at 8:28 am

      I don’t really use any list apps at the moment! I usually just type it all up in Evernote so that I have it in digital format! What about you??

      • Reply
        Amanda Jea
        July 14, 2017 at 9:07 am

        I love Evernote too! I use the Reminders app on iPhone for all of my simple, straightforward lists (like grocery lists, bill reminders, etc). but Evernote is my favorite all-purpose organizer.

  • Reply
    Melissa Klusek
    July 11, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Yes! I love this! Writing down #allthethings really helps when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve probably done about 10 different brain dumps just for my wedding this week! I like to use a legal pad or notebook and make all the lists, then break them up into different days in my planner. Like, I know I need to clean the apartment, so what needs to be cleaned specifically- the bathroom, kitchen and living room, so I’ll schedule some time in the evening on Thursdays to do that so everything is clean for the weekend (we spend basically every weekend away from our apartment so it’s so nice coming home to a clean place Sunday afternoon!). Sitting down on Sunday night and actually scheduling in my workouts and adding things to my to do list helps too, since I can’t stand to see that circle not filled in next to a task haha :)

    • Reply
      Brighton Keller
      July 11, 2017 at 8:29 am

      i do the same thing Melissa!! especially when the task is super big like (cleaning the apt/house) – I HAVE TO break it down into smaller tasks, otherwise I’ll just continue to stare at it and nothing will get done! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Reply
    July 11, 2017 at 4:38 am

    I never heard the word brain dump before but it totally makes sense. Sometimes, there’s too much in my head and I can’t even keep up.

    • Reply
      Brighton Keller
      July 11, 2017 at 8:30 am

      right?! and our heads are not made to hold all the information and not do anything about it. Plus, we’re must better at processing stuff when we can simplify, refine, and focus on individual things!

  • Reply
    Candice Petersen
    July 11, 2017 at 2:47 am

    Thank you for sharing this informative post!

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