When I was in elementary school, my teachers would have us do the same activity before writing an essay, story, or other important paper.
They called it “brainstorming,” and we were instructed to fill a piece of paper with whatever thoughts or ideas we came up with about a particular topic. We were just supposed to write without worrying about spelling, grammar, or organizing our thoughts into categories.
I loved brainstorming. It was refreshing to write with no structure and just pour my thoughts onto the page like a rain storm. After getting it all out, it was easier to see common themes and make sense of my ideas.
I still use brainstorming, but more recently I’ve heard it referred to as a “brain dump.” That’s a fun image too, as if our thoughts are thrown together in a rubbish heap that we dump into a big pile of unrelated concepts.
And like a real garbage dump, most of our ideas are pretty stinky.
But that’s the whole point! By getting all our jumbled thoughts out of our heads, we’re able to see them objectively and pick out the real treasures.
People can sometimes set themselves up for failure when they feel like they have to write a business report, blog post, or anything in the exact order of the end product (such as the introduction, point 1, point 2, and so on).
But what if you don’t know what you want to say in the intro? What if you have an idea for point #3, but by the time you start writing that part you’ve forgotten your great insight?
I know people who feel compelled to write everything in order even for their own diaries. How boring and tedious!
I think the problem we have is that many of us feel like we have to get things right the first time.
It may sound counterintuitive, but you’ll be more focused later if you get unfocused first with a brain dump.
Get a piece of paper and write down any ideas that are floating around your head. They can be about anything—your next project, your grocery list, gift ideas for your sister’s birthday, songs you want to download, a scene in a story you’re working on. You could also type into a blank Word document, but I find that I get more ideas when I put pen to paper.
Don’t try to organize your thoughts; just let them flow.
You can stop after about 15 minutes or keep writing until you run out of ideas. Take at least a 5-minute break before you review your brain dump. Look over your notes and see if there are some common themes or ways to categorize the concepts.
The brain dump technique is mentioned in the popular book, The Artist’s Way, but it’s referred to as “morning pages.” With this method, you’re supposed to just write without direction as soon as you wake up.
I like to do a brain dump every Sunday afternoon so I can organize my tasks for the coming week and be more productive. Click here to download the to-do list I use.
The first section is for your brain dump, then you choose 3 big priorities for the week, and then 3 mini tasks for each day. I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in my productivity by brain dumping first rather than plowing ahead with what I think I should be doing.
Have you tried the brain dump technique? Has it worked for you?
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