Productivity 101: The Brain Dump

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🖊 This article was last updated on December 4, 2020

Let’s do a little visualization. Close your eyes and imagine your head as office and in the office is a desk- this is your brain. Is that desk all in order, neat and tidy with no outstanding tasks? Or is it a cluttered mess with a million and one post-it notes all over it, so that you can’t actually see the desk? Now, ask yourself a question… Which desk (or which brain) do you think will be more productive?

One more question, which desk is yours? If you recognize that messy desk as your own, then I’ve got one simple task for you: do a ‘Brain Dump’ and it will help you declutter that desk and increase your productivity.

What is a Brain Dump?

A brain dump is a very helpful productivity tool also known as ‘de-cluttering the mental desk’ (but ‘brain dump’ sounds way more fun!)

It’s the simple act of emptying the contents of your brain onto paper.  Our brains are not designed for remembering, but for ‘doing’, for understanding, problem-solving, thinking and creating. The more you try to store in your head, the slower your brain processes become.

A brain dump is basically taking all the items on your to-do list, all the stressful thoughts, things you have to do in the future, out of your head and onto paper.

Why do a Brain Dump?

I first came across the idea in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” in which he describes it as a ‘mind sweep’. Allen explains how a mind sweep (or brain dump) is necessary to achieve a clear mental and emotional state in order to freely create, focus, think, and respond.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on the things we haven’t completed, our open loops. And as solopreneurs, we tend to have many open loops and it’s very easy to get tangled up in them. If you have ever lain awake at night thinking about all the things you have to do the next day, next week, next month or even for that year, then you know how exhausting this can be.

We all know how lack of sleep affects our productivity, a tired brain is not a happy brain. A brain dump will help lower your stress levels helping you to get better rest and it’s a super simple and effective way to increase your productivity.

How to do a Brain Dump

Grab a pen and paper and start thinking of anything and everything that you have to do. Write down anything that is weighing on your mind. Just write it down, write it all down, no matter how trivial it may seem. Even pebbles can block the flow of a river if there are enough of them, so get pebbles, boulders and every grain of sand out of your head and onto that piece of paper.

Don’t worry about forming full sentences or how it looks on the page and try not to think too much about the actual tasks themselves right now.  

Do this for about 15-20 minutes. You may end up with a page, you may end up with 5… but try not to let your list overwhelm you. When I ask people to do this task, I find that they feel one of two things… relief or panic!

Relief or Realisation

If you are feeling a little freaked out by the brain dump, don’t worry – this is a normal reaction! It can be scary to see all those tasks and reminders right there in black and white.

But don’t blame the brain dump!

They are now on the page in front of you but before, they were just swimming around inside your head taking up space, focus, and energy that could be better spent elsewhere on your business.

That fear that you may feel now has been lurking in your subconscious all along, and you’ve just got really good at ignoring it, or have just got used to the stress which is not a healthy place to be.

Ok, so now what?

After a brain dump, you’ll probably have a huge list of things you have to do, must do, should do, want to do and maybe many more that you don’t want to do.

The next step is to…

Organise your Brain Dump

The brain dump is only effective if you do something with the information. Imagine a messy sock drawer… there are patterns and colours everywhere, it’s a mess. Emptying the drawer is a great start but you still have to organise them.  

So, take all of these items on your brain dump list and add them to a task manager and a calendar. I recommend Wunderlist and Google Calendar, both are easy to use and sync with all your devices.

What tasks go where?

Everything you dumped from your brain should go into your task manager and from now on, this is your new ‘desk’.

If there are items on your list that must be done on a certain day, then that’s when you dedicate a slot to it on your calendar. Don’t use your calendar as a to-do list, it’s merely a tool to allocate time to time-sensitive tasks.

Make the brain dump technique a part of your daily, weekly or monthly working life, as and when you need it, but regularly enough that your brain gets so tied up in knots and loops again. This way you’ll be able to maximise your brain power and make prioritising tasks a walk in the park!


By physically writing down every single to-do thought that buzzes around inside our heads and then organising it into a system, gives our brains the space it needs to do what it is designed to do. The brain dump is a stress reliever, a loop-closer and a productivity maximiser… Give it a try!

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