How Starting Your Day With a ‘Brain Dump’ Can Make You More Productive

How Starting Your Day With a ‘Brain Dump’ Can Make You More Productive

Have you ever woken up and been filled with immediate dread because the day ahead of you is so busy? It happens to me all the time and is, frankly, a miserable way to greet the morning. It simply does not set you up to have a positive experience. There’s a way to quickly right the ship, however, and turn all those tasks into motivation. It’s called a “brain dump” and you should try doing one in the AM to have a more productive day. 

What is a brain dump?

A brain dump is similar to a brainstorm, except you’re actually dumping the contents of your brain. In this case, you’re dumping them into a notebook, planner, or digital document. The trusty old Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a brain dump as “the act or an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas.” When you’re doing it for productivity, that “uncritically” part is important. Just write down (or type) every single thing you need to do for the day. Don’t categorize or prioritize anything; you’ll get to that. 

So, a brain dump could include anything from “finish the big project at work” to “take the dog to the groomer’s” to “buy the ingredients for my kid’s birthday cake.” Don’t be afraid to put down anything that you have coming up in the next few days, either, if those things are weighing on your mind today. I just did one and ended up with tasks from all areas of my life that need to be done this week, but ideally today or tomorrow: Finish my list of big story pitches (work), make my additions to a joint spreadsheet (work), send my birthday party invites (personal), check on the class I’m waitlisted for (school), get my eyelashes done (personal), get my laundry ready for the cleaners (personal), send my computer to the shop (work, personal, and school). There are way more than that, but you get the idea. 

Your goal when you brain dump should be to see the volume of tasks and feel the weight of remembering them all lift from your brain. Even if you were to stop here, with this jumbled mess of responsibilities and to-dos, you’d have them all written down and could stop thinking about them over and over. But you’re not done here. 

Prioritize your brain dump

Now that you have every single task written down somewhere, it’s time to prioritize them. My favorite prioritization method is the Eisenhower Matrix, which forces you to identify which tasks are urgent and important; not urgent but important; not important but urgent; and not urgent and not important. You do this by drawing a matrix where the X axis represents urgency (timeliness) and the Y axis represents importance, then writing each task within one of the quadrants created. 

You can also try Kanban, which asks you to sort your work into the categories of “to-do,” “doing,” and “done.” If you’re going with Kanban, use a pencil you can erase or create a large board and put the tasks on sticky notes, so you can move them through the stages of completion. Kanban is less helpful for prioritization than Eisenhower, but it does help you visualize where you stand with all those tasks, which is helpful in the same way the brain dump is: You need to see everything laid out so you’re not wasting your day trying to remember what needs to be done and what phase it’s in. 

Why the brain dump works

The brain dump helps you start your day by getting all of your worries, responsibilities, and tasks out of your head and onto paper, so you can see the volume of what needs to be done without spending your valuable time trying to remember what it even is. It’s recommended all over social media and the blogosphere by people who rely on it to declutter their minds. Instead of trying to remember everything you have to do—or stressing about it—you transfer it to your dump. Honestly, after having just given it a shot, I can say that it really does alleviate some stress right away. And with that stress minimized, you’re free to get moving on the actual tasks, which will give you a productivity boost. 

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