Do Life Better with the Brain Dump

Brain dumps. I talk about them often in Simple Saturdays. I recommend them to friends. I do them almost weekly. Why? Because I think they are a life hack. They help you DO LIFE BETTER.

So what is a brain dump?

It is a list of ALL the things taking up space in your brain. The tasks you keep forgetting at work, the school photos you still haven’t ordered, the call you keep forgetting to make, the project you want to complete sometime before Christmas comes, the list that starts scrolling through your mind at 11pm at night.

A brain dump is the action of giving all these things a home on paper.  (I heard about them from David Allen.)

The benefits of the brain dump


It unclutters your brain – all those things burdening your thoughts and menacing your peace are kicked out of your head and they have a home on paper now. NOW, if you are an overachiever you might think the brain dump is your to-do list. IT IS NOT a to-do list! It is an ‘on the brain list’. It is like dumping the contents of your purse onto the table and then sorting through it. To really clean it out you need to know everything that is in there.


It helps you see what things you could give your attention to. If you find yourself wandering your home and half-finishing chores, then stopping to scroll facebook for 27 minutes, maybe you aren’t spending your time in an optimal way. Having a list of things that could/should be done will provide you with options on ways that you would help you be and feel more purposeful in your day.


If you haven’t set some priorities then you might spend your day reacting to whatever pops up in your day. You will feel busy but not productive. The brain dump helps you prioritize – as mentioned above, this list helps you to see all the options of where you can spend your time and resources. But this is gonna be a big list and it might feel intimidating until you remember the sage advice attributed to David Allen: “you can do anything, but not everything.” –> Let that one sink in all over your life, because it is a fundamental truth about living life on purpose. You have to make choices about what is important TO YOU.


This isn’t a list of ‘things that a ‘good mom’ does’ or ‘things that all the other instagrammers are doing’. This is YOUR list. This is your time to stop and list out the things that you need to do. Maybe you haven’t made that doctor’s appointment? Maybe you want to phone up an old friend? There are things that you need that are being overshadowed by the demands or expectations of others. This brain dump will help remind you of the tasks and errands that need your attention to help you grow and be healthy.


If you approach your day by just doing whatever you feel like you might end up frittering away your moments on things that aren’t that useful. Like drywalling the holes in the basement closet when you should have been making dinner for the company you are having tonight. Doing a brain dump is the first step in planning and prioritizing your time. It is the foundation of your Time Management skills.


How to do a brain dump

Write out a list in whatever way works for you, on paper or digitally.

I like to put my brain dumps in my big notebook or in my bullet journal [How to Get Started Bullet Journalling]. It is pretty fool-proof as long as you are committed to actually giving it your time and attention. If you are a list taker, you might need to get all your different lists in one spot so you can consolidate it all onto the brain dump.

I like to sort my list by categories of home and work (and since I have more than one position I break it down by the business I’m working for). There were also times when I sort it by how I will accomplish the task (phone calls, town errands, home chore, computer task, etc).

I even use the brain dump to plan out trips. I make columns for the different things we need to pack, do, buy, etc for the trip.

Yes, this was the most romantic (anniversary) camping trip ever. The kids went to their grandparents and we fished and ate all the cheese!

I keep my brain dumps handy in the kitchen [The Kitchen Planning Station] so I can add to them as I think of things, and to refer to whenever I am ready to do something with my day.

I want to highlight the necessity of a brain dump for everyone. You don’t have to be a #bosslady or business owner to benefit from a brain dump. A brain dump is for every.single.person who has stuff on their brain that they know they should do.


How to use the brain dump

Once you have this giant list of tasks it can feel a little overwhelming so make sure you do this next step.

The next step is to pick what things are the priority. I will usually pick one or two errands if I’m spending my day parenting. If I am doing my work tasks then I will pick what MUST be done today.

Here is the power of making choices. This can be a hard part for everyone from people pleasers to procrastinators because we have to listen to our own selves on what our values are, what time and resources we are willing to invest, and what outcomes we want.

Choose what is important and stick to those things.


The brain dump at work

I am not a people pleaser, but I am a procrastinator. I will spend my energy doing fun and non-essential things instead of the things that actually NEED to be done (if you know the Enneagram, this is a Type 9 problem [How to Find Your Enneagram Type (and how it has changed my life)]).

For instance, I sat down to work this morning and did a brain dump of all the tasks I had in my brain.  Then I went through and starred the things I knew I HAD to finish today. There were four things I knew I had to get done.

Now, I have put myself in a situation where I only work one day a week. I know I could work more, but I am a stay at home mom and this is the level of commitment I want to give in this season. The only way this one day work week can be successful is if I can prioritize what I do and choose to do less of what doesn’t matter as much. Here’s the catch: I hate to-do lists, I am not an overachiever, and I am not that motivated when something else looks more fun and easier. BUT when I do a brain dump and choose the things that must be done, it keeps me on track.

Today as I was working I almost went off track about a dozen times. There were some fun things I was excited to start and would find myself drifting over to them. Then I would glance at my brain dump and remind myself  ‘do what is starred’.  I laughed at myself multiple times because I was so close to high-jacking my own work day and I relied on this list to keep me on task.


The brain dump at home

There are also times where I am not at work and I make a brain dump of everything I could do at home with the kiddos around. Sometimes I sort it into things to do with the kids and things to do when the kids are busy.

When I have a spare moment I look at this list and choose a task that fits into the time I do have. For instance, if I have ten minutes I could declutter a bathroom drawer. If I have 20 minutes I could start dinner prep for later.

This saves me from wandering the house aimlessly and doing what I FEEL LIKE (which is probably watching Instagram stories and drinking coffee) and helps me do what I know will make me feel productive and purposeful by the end of the day.


You are not lazy!

This is why I talk about the brain dump so much. It is such a valuable and simple tool to help you unclutter your mind and feel more productive with how you spend your time.

And if you are a stay at home mom, you know how great it can feel to finish your day and feel like you were productive. Feeling productive helps you enjoy rest. So do a brain dump, get something done then put your feet up at the end of the day and do not feel guilty for Netflixing with your man while you eat some cheese and pickles [I Stopped Calling Myself a Lazy Mom].



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