Writing Tips: The Brain Dump

Are you struggling for a topic for your next college paper, staff meeting, or pending speaking opportunity? One of the ways to get a number of ideas on the table is to do a brain dump. Now, don’t confuse this with simple brainstorming, which is very similar. This type of brain dump won’t be about simply generating ideas, but about getting what’s already cloggin’ up your mind down on paper.

I attended a class recently, and the instructor made a great point by saying that we tend to manage our time and schedules from multiple lists, including one in our head. I won’t belabor the studies and statistics, but the fact is moving all of your lists to a single location does three things (and did for me):

1. Puts all or your obligations in one place – easy to sort and control
2. Frees up space in you mind, less worrying “did I forget something?”
3. Lets you identify “quick victories” that you can knock out and be done with.

One misconception: If you put it all on one list, the list will be too long. Guess what? The list is already that long. You are just hiding the length by not looking at it as a whole. I know I was and so were the others in my class.

Now the class I took, ran by The Effective Edge, suggested placing this list into MS Outlook as tasks. I agree with that idea, if you are an Outlook user. If not, grab a pen and paper or open a word processing program and let’s get started.

Another misconception: Your work list should stay at work and your home list should stay at home. Really? Does anyone truly compartmentalize that list in their own minds? Probably not. One list. Period. It doesn’t mean you do a bunch of home stuff at the office, but if it’s on the same list, you can see it and not have to worry about it.

Also, are you asking yourself how this is a writing tip? Here’s the answer. Anything you write is writing. For those of you that are expert writers, this is a great idea for emptying your mind. For those that are not great writers, this is a great way to get some thoughts on paper and find out that you can write!

Here are the steps:

1. Spend 10 minutes listing every thing you can think of that is on your mental “to-do” list and just write them down (or type them).
2. If you get stuck, go through all of the major categories in your life (i.e. work, home – yourself, home – family, car, house, church, school, spouse, kid(s), parents, siblings, Toastmasters, etc.)
3. Breathe

Don’t worry about prioritizing. Just categorize it. For big items (i.e. finish college), figure out the next task (i.e. finish economics report). Once you do that task, you can figure out the next one.

Just getting this part done will really free your mind up. You may want to repeat this exercise from time-to-time, as you may find yourself migrating back to your old mental list style. Bonus! This list could serve to give you some ideas for that next paper or presentation we talked about in the opening. If not, it should at least free up your mind to think about some things besides your to-do list.

Put it on paper and keep moving forward!

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