A brain dump can help you get your thoughts down on paper and increase your self-awareness, which can decrease stress.
You’ve probably heard productivity experts and online entrepreneurs talk about “brain dumps” as a way to boost focus and get more organized. But what, exactly, is brain dumping?
Brain dumping is similar to journaling, with the key difference being that it’s time-limited. Instead of focusing on writing about one event, brain dumping allows you to get down all of your thoughts in a speedy manner (usually within 5 or 10 minutes).
The idea is that when you get all of the thoughts crowding your head on paper, you free up space in your brain to be productive and learn new things.
But does it really work? Here’s what you should know.
Brain dumping is a technique taught by productivity specialists. There isn’t a psychological definition for a brain dump, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the following definition:
“the act or an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas (as on a particular topic).”
Basically, a brain dump is the act of writing down everything that comes to mind on a particular topic. Its proponents describe it as a way to get all of your thoughts and ideas down on paper and free up space in your brain.
People who brain dump usually set a time limit (of 5 or 10 minutes), and get down all of their thoughts on paper.
Proponents of brain dumping say that its benefits include:
- helping you remember what you need to accomplish each day
- clearing up headspace to learn more information
- organizing your thoughts
- improving focus and concentration
- increasing self-awareness of thoughts and feelings
- may decrease stress
One 2021 study found that participating in a brain dump activity helped lower students’ intrinsic cognitive load.
It’s important to note that the evidence supporting the benefits of brain dumping is limited.
There is more research about the effects of journaling. A 2002 study found that journaling about thoughts and feelings may have some mental health benefits. But focusing only on negative feelings while journaling was correlated with more severe symptoms of mental illness.
It’s likely that, like journaling, the benefits of brain dumping depend on several factors — like what, exactly, you’re writing and what you’re thinking about.
There are many ways to utilize the “brain dump” technique to organize your thoughts and reduce stress. Here are a few we suggest.
Start-of-the-day brain dump
This is the way most people use brain dumps to improve focus and productivity.
At the beginning of your day, take out your brain dump notebook and start writing with no specific direction in mind.
There are no rules. You can get out all of your thoughts by writing things, such as:
- all of the tasks that you need to accomplish today
- thoughts that are holding you back
- ideas that you’re excited about
- worries that are lingering in your mind
Proponents say that this exercise helps them to declutter their minds and organize their thoughts. But be careful of going into too much detail about events that are upsetting you.
Again, research has shown that journaling about negative emotions and experiences can make you feel worse.
After-learning brain dump
Research shows that writing things down after learning them can help you recall the information later.
Another way to use the brain dump technique is after you’ve learned new information. This kind of brain dump is known in educational research as retrieval practice.
For example, university students can use this brain dump technique after every class. Whenever you’ve learned a lot of new information, simply write freestyle about all the new information you’ve absorbed.
Some people find it more helpful to make an organized list of the information, or to separate a piece of paper into quadrants (to better organize information into categories).
You can also use this technique before exams or at work.
Brain-dumping everything you need to know for an upcoming exam or review can help you feel more confident that you’re equipped with all of the necessary information.
Any time there’s a lot of new information you need to remember, try “dumping” it on a piece of paper.
We learn better in small increments, so make sure you’re completing this brain dump activity several times a week (rather than at the end of each semester).
Gratitude brain dump
Rather than journaling about the negative experiences in our lives (which can sometimes make us feel worse), gratitude journaling helps us to focus on the positive aspects of life.
To do a gratitude brain dump, set a timer for 10 minutes. Then, jot down as many things as you can think of that you feel grateful for.
You can go into as much detail as you want. Some people may find it more helpful to jot down a long list of things you’re grateful for, while others prefer to write freehand about one particular thing.
To get the most out of a gratitude brain dump, use mindfulness to pay attention to how you feel after completing it. Keep this positive feeling with you as you move through your day.
Many people use brain dumps, especially at the start of their day, to effectively declutter their minds, reduce stress, and increase productivity and learning.
While the research supporting brain dumps is still limited, it’s not likely to cause any harm — so go ahead and try it out to see whether it’s effective for you.
After you’ve gotten all of your tasks, worries, and ideas onto paper, you can start to organize them.
For example, try prioritizing all of the tasks that you need to complete today, or coming up with actionable solutions to the worries that are within your control.
To further increase the power of brain dumping, try focusing only on gratitude or using it to help you recall information after learning.