art-of-the-brain-dump

What is a brain dump? Imagine your brain as a backpack or purse that you’ve been lugging around for three months. Stuff has Accumulated. There are old receipts, that thing you need to take back to that person, loose change, old used(!) tissues, a couple of chocolates, and an emergency pair of flats, bare minimum. The weight of carrying all that garbage around starts to take a toll on your back and shoulders. When you dump it out, you’re amazed at the untold detritus of your life that comes tumbling onto the table. You vacuum the lining, sort out what’s really useful, dump the trash, and repack. Everything is tidy and light.

A brain dump is just like that, only you just need some uninterrupted quiet time and a place for all the crap in your head. You can write it on paper or in a word document. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you get everything rattling around down. Out of your brain. Give yourself as much time as it takes. It could take an hour, or most of an afternoon, off and on. I find, often, that once I start writing things down, other things start bubbling up. Our brains relate tasks tangentially, not in straightforward, indented lists. Write down every tiny thing that comes up in your brain, without judging it or dismissing it as trivial.

What you’ll end up with is pages of scribbled notes, in no particular order. If you leave it at this stage, you’re not actually improving anything. You just copied the clutter from your brain to the paper, and now you have physical paper clutter as well. Get a new sheet of paper or open a new document, and parse your items into the following lists:

  1. Open Tasks
    • Things you’ve been meaning to do; stuff to research, emails to send, prescriptions to refill, etc. Most of the stuff will fall into this category.
  2. Projects
    • Things you’ve been mulling over. I generally collect a few snippets of scenes, a little flash of character, something that has been brewing for a while that I haven’t yet consciously recognized. Or maybe your house needs re-roofing.
  3. Someday
    • These are the smaller things, the dust that collects in the cracks. They’re not big enough to do anything with, but your brain keeps pulling them up, trying to keep them in your active memory. They’re for later, maybe. They are half-baked ideas, potentials.
  4. Concerns
    • This gets left off a lot of lists, but we’re here because we have something atypical going on with our brains. Make a list of the concerns that you bring up, the stuff that’s hanging out in the dark corners, smoking and pretending to be cool. All the anxious thoughts you had while you were writing. All the Umbridge thoughts.

That should be everything! The more you do a brain-dump, the smaller the lists will be. A nightly brain-dump during a particularly rough emotional patch will net you illuminating results. A weekly brain-dump can help you stay focused, if you use it to make sure you’re focused on your goals.

Have you done a brain dump before? Do you have any tips for someone that has never sat down and emptied out their mind?