How to Use Brain Dumps to Avoid Overwhelm

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Feeling overwhelmed and stressed?

Like the world is crashing down on you and you don’t know which bit of life to focus on, or which direction to go in, or even where to start?

Don’t worry, I’ve been there too.

Sometimes I like to make a complete brain dump of all my goals, to-dos and current thoughts.

I find that when I am particularly stressed and/or feeling overwhelmed for one reason or another, I like to grab a piece of paper and a pen, and dump all my thoughts on the page.

It’s so therapeutic!

As I explore my new entrepreneur/freelance lifestyle, I find that periodically I get a little stressed about my work and the direction I’m going in.

By dumping everything on the page, I can really help to clarify what it is that I want and what is truly important. By putting all my thoughts on a page, it helps me to create a vision of where I ultimately want to be.

My vision.

My goals.

Most importantly, by working backwards, it also helps me to answer the ‘what should I be working on right now’ question.

How I will get there.

How and where can I add value to stop feeling so overwhelmed, that will help me get closer to my goals?

Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, here’s what I do:

Yes, you could theoretically do this on a word doc or on your phone.


Brain dumps work best by having the easiest way to systematically expel all your thoughts in your mind to something physical in front of you. For me, nothing beats a pen and a blank canvas in the form of a piece of white paper.

Pen and paper allows:

  • scribbles
  • tables
  • giant love-hearts
  • arrows
  • triple-underlining for emphasis

Once you get started you’ll want to pour out thoughts quickly.

Put the phone aside, and grab a pen and a piece of blank paper.

You’re ready to get scribbling!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

For my brain dump I always keep 2 important aspects in mind: money and time. These are normally the two main reasons why I feel stressed — I usually feel I have issues with one or the other.

I’m stressed because I don’t feel I’m earning enough, or because I feel I don’t have enough time.

I need to work smarter, not harder.

My brain dump structure normally goes like this:

  • Where I currently spend my time [reality scenario]
  • Where my current income comes from [financial scenario]
  • Working out my ideal weekly time allocation to achieve my goals [end goal scenario]

Let’s talk about these a bit more.

Reality Scenario: The reality scenario takes an honest look at how you currently spend your time.

Map out how much time you currently spend on each of your projects, clients and/or businesses.

Be honest.

Include time spent on calls, emails and researching.


It always takes longer than what you think it will.

How much time are you spending on work? On which clients?

Write this down.

Financial Scenario: The financial scenario takes an honest look at how much you earn.

How much are you currently earning? From which clients?

Write this down.

End Goal Scenario: The end goal takes a look at how much you want to earn.

What do you need/want to be earning?

[To do this it may be helpful to write a ‘base’ budget, i.e. the amount you need to live a basic life, with no frills. This includes your rent, food, utility bills, phone bills, and any other financial obligations that you absolutely must pay. How much do you need to survive? On top of that, how much do you really need/want?]

Write this down.

Look at what you’ve earned from which client to work out an ‘hourly’ rate for each.

e.g. you earned $500 a month from 12 hours of blogging, $1,200 from 35 hours of work from client A, $150 from 2 hours of work from client B.


  • blogging ~ $42/hour
  • client A ~ $34/hour
  • client B ~$75/hour

Now, how many hours of each client do you need to reach your budget?

Are there enough hours in your day to actually do that? Will you enjoy spending your time like that?

See what happens?

You’ll start to identify which clients pay well and which are a time-suck.

You’ll start to notice which clients are leading you towards your end goals, and which are there merely to stop you from going broke.

Remember, to be happy you probably don’t want to spend hours and hours working just to meet your budget.

If you’re having problems, either you need to earn more per hour or spend less.

In reality, this exercise forces you to ask: how do you find more of client B?

Note: Sometimes it’s worth taking a pay sacrifice if you are more passionate about the work or the client you work for, so client B may not be the one you’re looking for.

Think about how you ultimately want to spend your time and how your time spent will help you achieve your goals.

It’s not easy, but hopefully this will help.

Photo by Jon Ly on Unsplash

“Brains are awesome. I wish everyone had one.” — Anon.

Hopefully this exercise will help you to identify:

  • what you are actually spending your time on,
  • where your income is coming from, and
  • what you want to spend your time on to achieve your personal and financial goals

After the pen-wielding mess of goal planning has come to an end, this is when my favorite part of the brain dump really comes together.

I take a good long look at my list.

What is in that end goal scenario? How do I get there?

What are the piece by piece chunks that I can break that big goal into?

Which little chunks can I do this month?

This week?


I start to get a renewed sense of motivation and I realize it’s all going to be okay. I can do this!

Still feeling overwhelmed? You could also give my other article a read: how to identify your passions when you’re feeling clueless

Life after quitting the rat-race.

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