Increase Your Focus and Productivity With a Brain Dump

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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  1. Tinfoil Tiaras on September 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    My Mum takes 30 minutes at the end of a day to write down any thoughts, ideas, concerns, lists she has on her mind and finds it very therapeutic. It’s something I’d like to get into the habit of as well and I love the idea of a brain dump. Once I get it on paper and out of my head, it’s not as worrisome.

    • Sage Grayson on September 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

      That’s a great idea to do a brain dump at the end of the day…then you won’t be worrying about stuff all night! I hope you give it a try, even just a couple times a week. Getting it out of my head helps me refocus.

  2. xvavaveganx on September 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I brain dump all the time! I always have a pad and paper on me, no matter what! I tend to have a lot of fleeting thoughts so I’ve learned over the years that it is my best bet to write it down as it happens. I also recently had a “brain dumping” session when I was preparing for Vegan MoFo! Everyone thought it was crazy early to preplan but it sneaks up on you and is a very daunting task so I figured being prepared ahead of time would be my best bet 🙂 I’m glad I did it!

    • Sage Grayson on September 22, 2012 at 9:55 am

      I always carry around a notepad too! I remember things better when I write them down.

      It’s never too early to make a plan. Who knows what will happen later? I tend to underestimate how long it will take me to complete something, but starting early has helped.

  3. Anna @ Thrifty Business on September 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    I first heard of “brainstorming” when I was in middle school (I was fresh from Israel so that’s my excuse). Since I wasn’t slowly acclimated to the term I still think of little thunderstorms waging in one’s cerebral cavity whenever someone mentions it 🙂

    I’ve actually started doing exactly what you suggested my first year in college because I needed to have fresh, brilliant ideas one after another (and there’s no better way to filter through them than brain dumping!). It’s great that you’re passing along the word and providing a worksheet.

    • Sage Grayson on September 22, 2012 at 9:57 am

      I like the idea of a thunderstorm in my head! 🙂 It’s really made a difference in my life. I don’t have to get it right the first time, and getting all the lousy ideas out of my head helps me find the brilliant ones. Do you brainstorm every day? At a certain time?

  4. Molly on September 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I love “brain dump” much better than brainstorming. How great! I guess I do something similar, writing down a bunch of thoughts and then organizing them from there while getting rid of the ones that I decide aren’t worth my time. I love the chart you provide!

  5. H&K Style Journey on September 19, 2012 at 4:46 am

    I really love this idea. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed being a mom, working full-time, doing the kids activities, taking care of the house and helping the hubby with the new business that I need to be able to re-focus and prioritize what needs to be done. Heather

    • Sage Grayson on September 22, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Our lives are SO busy! I wouldn’t get anything done without brain dumping. Just getting it all out of my head helps me focus on what’s really important. There are too many little tasks that want my attention, but they won’t help me get where I need to go. How often do you brainstorm and re-prioritize your life? Daily?