The Art of the Brain Dump

The Art of the Brain Dump

Running a marketing program can make you feel like a hamster on a wheel. 

Checklists, sticky notes, and phone alerts keep us on task, but they also make every to-do seem like an urgent priority. The wheel keeps going and so do we.

Enter: the brain dump.

It's not the most attractive image, but when your brain hits capacity, the idea of getting everything out of your head sounds rather refreshing.

About two months ago, I reached my "things to think about" limit and began typing everything out on my phone. It was 9:30 at night and I tried not to worry about spelling, punctuation or the order of what I was writing. Statements, phrases, questions...they all tumbled out in a stream of tired consciousness.

"What can I do about my grandfather's declining health?"
"We don't have any bread in the house"
"Will I have enough volunteers for the online education group?"

After about ten minutes, I had stopped the cycle in my head and finally felt like I could rest.

This sense of calm can make a lot of people, myself included, stop the brain dump process here. We feel like we can be productive again and we know that most of the things on our list will get addressed at some point.

But what if you used your list to make action possible now?

A brain dump frees your mind to be objective, but it's best to let it sit for a day or two. Then, you can sort it into three simple categories:

  • Things I Can Change Now

  • Things I Can Change Later

  • Things I Can't Change

While the categories are simple, it's challenging to admit that we can't fix everything. We're used to making things happen, but some things are out of our control and other things need to wait for better resources.

After your list is sorted, look at each item you can change now. Order them according to importance, not urgency, and decide on three things you can do to accomplish each one.

For items you can change later, write down one thing you can do now to move closer to your ultimate goal.

For items you can't change, think of one positive thing you can do to make the situation less stressful. When I had to be up several times a night -- every night -- with our sixth child, I turned it into my quiet reading time. Although I still yearned for a full night's sleep, I found myself looking forward to reading each time she woke up!

Even though I know how helpful brain dumps can be, I don't do them until I reach the cliff of "if I have to think of one more thing...".

It's not pretty.  

Instead of waiting for a crisis, make brain dumps a regular part of your routine. Whether you do them once a week, or once a month, they'll free your mind from needless clutter and help you see where to focus your priorities. Just remember that, in order to be effective, a brain dump has to be an unfettered rambling of thoughts.

So get it all out on paper (or your phone), take a deep breath, set your priorities and move forward. Your work will be better than ever.