What is a Brain Dump?
A brain dump is the process of transferring information from your brain to another medium such as a piece of paper or an app. It helps us bring order to the chaos in our minds due to information overload.
A brain dump should list all the things you want to accomplish – both the things you want and the things that demand your attention. This information is transferred to a printable brainstorming worksheet (provided below) which is like a dumping ground for your thoughts as you dump them on the paper and off your mind.
The Benefits of a Brain Dump
Reduce Stress and Overwhelm
A brain dump frees your mind and reduces stress. It helps you organize your thoughts and be more productive. Putting thoughts on paper and analyzing them will help you sort out the important from the meaningless and thus enable you to focus only on what matters. Our minds are not built to store information and as soon as we get a lot of these thoughts off our mind and on paper our minds will be relieved. They no longer need to store that information.
Prioritize your tasks
Once you have your thoughts and tasks down on paper, you will be able to examine each one. Looking at a short summary of your tasks and notes gives you perspective and enables you to see everything on your mind. Prioritize the important tasks and discard those that are not worth your time.
Create a Productive To-Do List
Doing a brain dump before creating a to-do list ensures that you don’t forget to add anything to your list.
When I was in school I used to use a brain dump to study for tests. I read the material and summarized it. I then did a brain dump. I then went back to my summary to see which points I missed. I marked them in another color and went over them. Each time I repeated this process I included more and more points until I remembered them all. There is something about this process that is extremely efficient. I found it an invaluable study tool both in high school and in college.
Decluttering your Mind
In the Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal, explains how cluttered our minds are. Our brain is constantly generating thoughts and our mind is constantly trying to process those thoughts.
To make decisions we need to focus but focusing requires time and energy both of which are limited. Decision making is very tiring even if we don’t realize it. The more decisions we make the harder it becomes to make the best choices. We eventually start avoiding decisions unless we are forced to make them. BuJo’s answer to decision fatigue is to reduce the number of decisions we burden ourselves with so we can focus on what matters.
The Bullet Journal Brain Dump
According to Ryder Carroll, the first step to recovering from decision fatigue is to create a mental inventory. Capturing these thoughts on paper helps you declutter your mind. Once you have captured your thoughts, you can examine them.
The chances are a lot of the things you think you need to do are not necessary, but we only realize this when we examine our list of tasks. If we don’t get them off our minds, examine and dismiss the meaningless tasks then they clutter our minds and bother us.
How to Create a Mental Inventory
We offer a free printable mental inventory set out as Ryder Carroll suggests. If you prefer, you can also use the other brain dump printable templates provided below or make your own. To make your own, simply divide a page into three columns.
In the first column, list all the things you are working on right now. For each thing, stop to ask yourself if it is vital and if not, if it matters (to you or to someone you care about)?
In the second column, list all of the things you should be working on. For each thing, stop to ask yourself if it is vital and if not, if it matters?
In the third column, list the things you want to be working on. For each thing, stop to ask yourself if it is vital and if not, if it matters?
Here is a brain dump template to do the mental inventory that Ryder Carroll suggests.
Bullet Journal Brain Dump Worksheet
How to Analyze your Mental Inventory
The mental inventory shows you exactly what you are working on, what you should be working on and what you want to be working on. That shows you where you are going and if that is the correct direction to lead you to self-fulfillment.
Scan each item on your list and make sure that each one either matters or is vital. If something is not vital or does not matter, then cross it off your list.
Once you have ruthlessly crossed off all tasks that were a waste of your time it leaves you with the things you need to do (your responsibilities) and things you want to do (your goals).
Use this list to populate your bullet journal.
The reason that you create the mental inventory on a piece of paper and not in your notebook is to only enter the things that matter into your bullet journal notebook. You don’t want to let distractions in.
When you start bullet journaling, you will write a daily log each day. This is a daily version of the brain dump. Each day, you jot down your thoughts throughout the day as they pop into your head. At the end of the day, you process your thoughts and only migrate the important ones to your future log or your monthly log. That way, your future log, and monthly spread only include things you believe are important or will add value to your life.
Brain Dump Template
The process described above is the brain dump bullet journal style as described by Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal. In the book, the Bullet Journal Method, it is referred to as a mental inventory. However, there are many different ways to use a similar process to offload your mind. Here are two brain dump printables that you can customize to best suit your needs. All text can be edited and the size of the boxes can be changed if you want to focus on any area more than another.
One template is more structured and the other one is an open list. There is no right answer on how to organize a brain dump since each person’s mind is full of different thoughts with different priorities. The best way is to try different ways until you find one that works for you. You don’t need a brain dump worksheet. You can just jot down any thought that comes to mind. If one thought leads to another, then go with it and keep jotting down thoughts until your mind is clear.
The idea is to get all of your thoughts onto paper, and any way works. You can create a single list or divide your list into sections such as: things to do, places to go, things to make, people to see, people to contact, things to learn, movies to see, etc.
You can insert the templates above into your planner. If you don’t have a Happy Planner then adhere the page to your planner with washi tape or glue.
How Often Should you do a Brain Dump?
If you are following the Bullet Journal Method, you create a brain dump before starting your bullet journal. Once you have started your bullet journal, you create a daily log every day. The daily log is the place to jot down your thoughts throughout the day without processing them similar to the brain dump process. During your daily reflection, you examine each thought and move anything that falls outside of the current month to the future log and other tasks, notes or events to your monthly log. If you do this every day, chances are you will not need to do a brain dump again as you offload your thoughts every day.
However, if you find a brain dump helpful and want to do one more often, you can do it every week or month.
The method described above is not the only way to do a mind dump. There are many ways to do it, and the best way is whatever works best for you. Try a few methods until you find one that works for you.