Does Your Brain Need A Data Dump?

Mechanical brain diagramIf I were to ask you what could get in the way of you achieving your most important goals this week, what would you say? If you’re like the rest of us, your mind will immediately begin rummaging through dozens of half-remembered details and hazy bits of things that should be on a to-do list. Do the words ‘swirling chaos’ come to mind? Join the club.

Our brains don’t work efficiently when we have hundreds of mental to-do notes (not to mention 87 unread emails) all clamouring for attention at the same time. When we’ve got too much on the go, our minds inundate us with urgent messages that are not particularly helpful. That’s when overwhelm mode kicks in.

Clear The Decks With A Data Dump

Data dump. Doesn’t it sound like something bad that could happen to us? It’s actually a wonderful tool to fight overwhelm and get things back into perspective. Here’s how you do it. You’ll need lots of sheets of paper or a pad of sticky notes and a pen. I want you to think of every single little detail that’s bothering you, everything you need to get done. Write each item on a separate piece of paper. No editing. If it feels like an undone item, record it. If you like sticky notes and you have a wall or a window to work on, go for it. This is your opportunity to get all those details out of your head — out of your short term memory. Stay with it until you’re certain there are no further details hanging about in the recesses of your brain. Now that you’ve emptied your mind and have each item written on its own piece of paper, gather them up and set them on fire.


Start sifting through your sheets to locate the truly important items. These are the things that absolutely must get done. Place the remaining items — the ones you’ve deemed less critical — in a folder and get that folder out of your sight. For each critical item, write down one next action. Only one. Warning: your brain will want to take you down rabbit holes — don’t let that happen. All you want is the next logical single step you can take for each of those critical must-do items. Once you’ve written one next action for every critical item, you can start doing them. This is precious time devoted to taking a single action on each of those critical items. Own it. Be selfish. Don’t let anyone take this work time away from you.

Keep blocking time out to move through the sheets — always prioritizing first — until you either run out of items or you run out of week. If you keep doing this, your critical items will get done and you’ll reduce or eliminate that sense of overwhelm. You may not need to do this often, but when you do need it, it’s a godsend.


14 Replies to “Does Your Brain Need A Data Dump?”

  1. Hmm how do you think this works with music? I have a million songs rummaging around in there! I wonder if this would work when you get in a situation where a song is stuck in your head! I read the title of your blog and knew absolutely that I needed to do this 🙂


  2. This is so timely for me! Yesterday I was definitely in overwhelm and feel like I’m scrambling to catch up after getting back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. I love the idea of the data dump, even though I’m a lot calmer today, having made good progress on my inbox! Definitely a technique I will try! Thanks!


  3. Susan – Loved this! I need to give this a try. I have so many things in my head I need to do, they are causing me to spin my wheels. This is actually the second time lately I have read about doing a brain dump. Need to take the hint and just do it!! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂


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