brain dump 4 methods

How to brain dump

A universal method for productivity and problem solving

A brain dump is a process of getting thoughts out of your head by writing them down. You literally dump all your thoughts out on a piece of paper.


Brain dumping is often described as a productivity method. For busy moms as well as for high-performance business leaders, writing down everything that floats around in your head helps to reduce stress and anxiety and to get a clear mind.

You might be more familiar with terms like bullet journaling, writing to-do lists first thing in the morning, or creating a mindmap for a project.

Those techniques all use the act of brain dumping.


In my own experience, the act of brain dumping is as much a productivity method as it is a creative method. And by creative I don’t mean in an artistic way but as a way to solve problems with new and innovative ideas.

Brain dumping helps to get ideas out of your head and to evolve them into “good ideas” by seeing the big picture around a topic and filling in important gaps.


This article shows different methods of how to brain dump so that you can select the one that’s best for you. It also gives 2 step by step examples: How to brain dump for productivity and how to use brain dump to spark creativity.

Why brain dump?

Brain dump to enhance productivity

From the productivity side, brain dumping can be used

  • To calm your racing brain
  • To manage overthinking
  • For time management
  • To visualize thoughts and tasks
  • For planning your day/week/month/project


With a brain dump, you get things out of your mind. You visually see the amount of “stuff” in your head.

In the next step, you can start to make sense of it: Sort, categorize, prioritize.

By practicing regular brain dumps, you avoid forgetting things that slipped your busy mind and you can improve focus:

By writing down the things that swirl around in your brain, you actively and quite literally take note of them. Once “recorded” on paper, your subconscious can let the thought go – you now don’t have to remember it because you know where to look for it in case you forget.

This can free up immense brainpower in busy times!


I know my thoughts, why would I need to write them down?

…in calm times, it’s no problem to remember the few things that you need to do. A lot of it is routine and the few additional tasks are easy to remember. But the busier you get, the more thoughts start to swirl around in your head.

When switching from task to task, your brain always needs more power to close one thing and be present for the next than if it would just go on with the same task.

The faster you switch between tasks and the more you multitask, the more brainpower is wasted by adjusting from one task to the other. On top, while your brain is busy with your task(s), some of your brainpower is reserved by your subconscious to remember important things from the previous tasks and to remember what’s next.

You may have experienced that when you are very busy or stressed, you start to forget even the most routine-based tasks, like taking a break to eat.

Brain dumps can be your secret weapon to free your head from the brain fog in busy times.

Brainstorm to break the creative block

The simple method of writing things down can not only drive your productivity but can also spark creativity.

In fact, brain dumping is one of the activities included in different design thinking methods or innovation processes.


At the beginning of a new project, it’s often difficult to start. There is this creative block – you just don’t have ideas, or you don’t have any good ideas.

The same can happen with a big project: The project is so big that you don’t know where to start or so many things happen simultaneously that you lose overview of where you need to be involved at the moment.

This is where brain dumping (in combination with idea generation often named “brainstorming”) is your fast track from block to productive action.


In a creative problem-solving setting, brain dumping helps:

  • To map the current situation
  • To visualize the complexity of a topic
  • To see where there are areas to generate more ideas
  • To communicate ideas and thought processes


With writing all topics and ideas to a project on a sheet of paper, you free up the brain capacity that holds on to those thoughts and you can think of new ideas and additional aspects. In the process of writing things down and drawing connections between topics, you automatically start to see blanks to fill.

By considering every idea instead of pressuring yourself to only write down the “good” ideas, you visualize the thought process, can start to see the big picture, and have a tool to communicate your ideas. Having it all mapped out, it’s easier to pick the best idea(s) and to reason why you did so.

Brain dumping  materials and methods

It all sounds so easy: Dump all your thoughts from your brain onto paper by writing them down.

But how do you do that exactly and what’s the best way? And where do you write things down? …creating a mind map? …writing down bullet points? …write it all out in a block of text? …Writing it in a pretty bullet journal? …Why the hell are some people using post-its? …Where do I get a fancy notebook that makes me look smart?


First things first: There’s no right or wrong. All is fine as long as it helps you in the process.

Important: Don’t focus on how it looks in the end or where it’s written on. Don’t push out your next brain dump until you have found the right notebook or have designed the perfect bullet journal page.

The best brain dumping material to start

Just start with a piece of blank paper.

Where you brain dump and how it looks really doesn’t matter! The important point is to start brain dumping and to make it a consistent habit.

Practical before beautiful!


Easy methods

Here are a few forms of brain dumping that you can select from:


Focus: plan, organize

A list might be the method that lies closest to your comfort zone.

It’s a great method for a fast brain dump to plan your day/week/month or next steps in a project.

Lists with sub-section are also very useful to sort things and get a better overview over a large list (high to low priority / different projects/business and private tasks / …).

You can write lists on a piece of paper or in the notes app on your phone.


Tip: When you realize that your list gets very big or if you notice that you can’t fully capture all dependencies inside a list, transferring the list into a mind map to further work with it might be the right step.

brain dumping list


Focus: processes, think through something

Post-its are best if you need a tool to think through something.

You can start to write things down on post-its, like bullet points on your list. But then, you are very free to organize and re-organize things until they make sense. You can stay in list format or start to build clouds like in a mind map. Or you can move them through a process (low to high priority / not started – in process – completed / …).

With post-its, you can avoid scraping and re-writing because you can move them around so freely.

Working with post-its, it’s a good idea to take a photo as a safety backup or to copy the result with pen and paper. Post-its can fall off and flatter around and you don’t want all your hard work to be in vain.

brain dumping with post its

Mind map

Focus: larger topics, visualize connections

Mind maps are basically clouds of connected words.

When writing a mind map, you typically start with your main topic in the center. Around that, you start to build arms with sub-topics and break them further down. Lines visualize how things are connected to other things.

Mind maps are the perfect tool to quickly capture complex topics or to find different aspects around a topic.

brain dump with a mind map

Sketches and scribbles

Focus: Visuals, storylines

Sketching lies further out of the comfort zone compared to writing for most people. You should consider rough sketches if you are brain dumping around a very visual topic, for example, to come up with photo ideas. With a quick sketch, you can note down – and more importantly, communicate – a lot more a lot faster than with a list of words for every visual.

Sketches can also come in handy when noting down a storyline, for example, the step by step of using a product.

Sketching takes practice.

If you are not (yet) familiar and comfortable with sketching, start adding scribbles and sketches to your lists here and there and you will start to notice when a sketch can communicate better or quicker than words.

sketching during a brain dump

How to braindump step by step

How you brain dump and which methods you (should) use depends on the topic and your personal preference. Do what comes naturally to you, don’t overthink and start.

Looking at the methods described above:

Which format speaks most to you?

Do you like to write?

Do you prefer sketching?

Do you think in lists or is it easier if you can connect dots in a cloud shape?

Do you like to re-arrange things during the process?

Which result do you want to get from your brain dump? – Do you brain dump to get ideas or do you want an action plan or list that you can work with afterward?

Pick the method most intuitive to you and try it.


Of course, the step by step depends a lot on your topic, method, and wished outcome. But here is a generic step by step which gives you first guidance:

Step 1: write down your overall topic

When you brain dump, you will always do it around a larger topic. This could be your to-dos, your thoughts at the moment, a certain project, or anything else.

Write your overall topic as a headline on top of your sheet or in the center of your mind map.

Step 2: Dump what comes to your mind

Let it all out! Literally, dump all your thoughts and ideas related to this topic onto a piece of paper.

Don’t judge, don’t select, just put it all out.

If you are more of a structured thinker, you might feel confident writing sub-headlines and breaking them further down at this stage already.

If your thoughts come more spontaneous and from intuition and you don’t see a structure from the start, that’s completely fine too. Just write everything down and don’t worry about any order at this point.

brain dumping mind map - step 1

Step 3: Group and name larger topics

Whichever way you chose to go – more structured or freer – take a short break (for example make yourself a coffee), come back, and look at what is in front of you.

Are there overall topics you see?

Do you find sequences?

How would you group the single items?

Add those sub-headlines, name things, re-arrange or put numbers behind items that are part of a sequence.

If you want, use colors to highlight or group things.

Step 4: Fill in

Now that structure starts to come in, question if you have forgotten anything.

Do the sub-headlines represent your topic?

Are there any areas that are not yet captured?

Are there more items that could go under the sub-headlines?

Fill in what is missing and see if new ideas come up. Fill in until you feel confident to have a good view of the topic.


Tip: Your work doesn’t need to be complete – I mean what can even be complete? Everything’s a process and you are never finished.

What you have should serve as a base for your further work. You can always come back and add things ongoingly.

brain dumping mind map - step 2

Step 5: Finalize into a form you can further work with

If your goal was to get clear on a topic or to get ideas for yourself, your work could be done here, especially if you went for a mindmap. It might be enough in the form it is now to work on your topic.

If you want to have an action list, a to-do list, or a detailed plan, you might want to re-write and do a clean version.


In any case, before you go ahead, take a photo of your list in its current stage. It could be valuable to have that photo in the future.

Speaking from my own experience here: Post its can fly all over your room with the next breeze of fresh air you let in, you might throw away your dump paper and question if you really transferred all items to the final list, you might want to communicate your thinking process to someone and the messy dump paper does a better job at that than the beautiful final format you created from it.

What can come from a brain dump?

Whether described as a productivity hack or a creative technique, brain dumping is a useful tool to get a clear picture of things.

It takes not much time and gets easier every time you practice it. But the impact it can have is huge:

  • It can let you become more productive
  • You will feel more on top of things if you use brain dumping the right way
  • It can help you get organized in your life
  • It can break the creative block
  • It will be an excellent starting point to come up with new ideas
  • You can do it alone or with a team
  • It will help you communicate your ideas and thinking processes to others

…the list goes on

❯❯ let me know in the comments how it helps you!


Go ahead and try brain dumping in different areas of your personal and professional life and observe the impact it has!

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How to Brain Dump

Mar 20, 2022 | My Productivity Secrets, PRODUCTIVITY

by Corinne

by Corinne



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