Tuesday Toolbox: Brain Dump

Welcome to another round tool-testing. If you missed last week’s post about the best podcast/podcatcher app Overcast then you can catch it here

My Dad is the best Dad I know. One of his wise sayings is, "the right tool makes all the difference.” So whether we were tuning up our bikes, demolishing my first home, or flipping my first home, he would always take the extra time to get, borrow, or buy the right tool for the job. My favorite part of these outings was learning about how many tools had similar looks, but completely different uses. Seriously have you seen the tool department at big box stores! It's a store within a store I tell you! 

Youth ministry is in many ways similar. We need tools, the right tools, and sometimes we didn’t even know they were available (or affordable).

Welcome to another weekly review of a free tool to boost youth ministers and youth ministry. This week we are all about the Brain Dump, a productivity practice that might change your life this week (not a guarantee just telling you that it has worked wonders for the #YMB team).

Caveats: Not every one of these tool reviews will be new to you or useful for you. No worries, sometimes tool-shopping is about remembering what is out there for later. Also, it takes some time to adapt to new tools. If you have never used one of these tools before remember that adding or shaping your personal workflow (or your team’s) takes time, practice, and routine

Youth Ministry Workers Are Busy People!

If you have been in youth ministry for any time at all, you know that you just always have more stuff to get done.Meetings, appointments, school lunches, phone calls, emails, messages, lesson prep, setup, teardown, cleanup, planning. Aaaagh! It can be overwhelming just thinking about it, never mind trying to get it all done, But maybe that’s the problem maybe we can’t get it all done.

There has not been a day in my life of youth ministry that I got towards the late afternoon and thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if there is anything else I could work on today.’

So where do we begin? Do we continue to just get overwhelmed, overworked, and eventually crushed by the wave of stuff that comes across our desk, office, or phone? 

I need a help, I need a guide, I need a tool. Today’s tool is not an app, device, or gadget but a tactic to help you get your head on straight. It’s called…


The Brain Dump

The Brain Dump is a tool borrowed from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (which is a productivity must read book) and is one of the most immediately effective tools for turning the swirl of stuff from cloudy to clarity. It is simply a chance to off-load the stress of your brain into a container (pad, journal, or paper) and give you the confidence to get back to work and not worry. 

There is usually just so much swimming in our head that it actually prevents us from being effective. Considering all you have to do and getting all you need done are not the same things. Having the idea and executing the idea are two entirely different things, yet we often confuse the two. So today we are going to Brain Dump everything that is floating around in your head that is keeping you from being effective.

Before we become more effective/efficient we need to spend some time being inefficient. For the next 50 mins I need you to put your computer away, turn the music off, and not take the next couple of calls. (Seriously, put the phone away.)

Okay, now we are going to do something archaic. Get a legal pad or notebook and a pen/pencil we going write down everything in your head onto paper. 

STEP 1: Make The List (Estimated time 35 min)


Think of everything you need to do, you may need to settle in we will be here for awhile.

Now, walk though the clutter of your mind aisle by aisle, compartment by compartment and write everything down you think you need to do or get done. 

Sample Categories

(Don’t worry about categorizing things these are just prompts to get your mind moving) 

Church Work

  • Call to Make
  • Emails To Send
  • Meetings To Setup
  • Stuff to Mail
  • Stuff to Print
  • Rooms to Clean

House/Home Work

  • Bills to Pay
  • Rooms To Clean
  • Chores To Get Done
  • Things to Fix
  • Things to Sell
  • Things To Buy

Shopping, Errands, Chore Work

  • Christmas Gifts
  • Household Goods
  • Baby Stuff
  • Groceries

Books, Movies, Media

  • Stuff To Read
  • Shows To Watch
  • Movies To See
  • Games You Want To Play

Health, Fitness, Wellness Work

  • Gym Schedule
  • Run Schedule
  • Health Goals
  • Menu Planning

Friends and Family Work

  • Quality Time To Plan
  • Relatives To Visit
  • Friends To Catch Up With

Stuff This List Missed

  • What’s Not On Here? 
  • What Am I Still Thinking About? 


Got it all? Whew you can feel the release right? It’s not in your brain anymore. It’s here, right in front of you. 

STEP 2: Examine The List (Estimated time 15-20min)


Now the second step. Whoa, whew, what? That’s a lot of stuff you got there friend, and all that stuff was floating around in your head clogging up your clarity. What do you notice about this long laundry list (oh shoot! laundry! I knew I forgot something). 

Is the list longer on the church side of things? Is it heavier on the home side of things? What is really clogging up your brain? What can you do about it? Well I am not a guru, but the good news is your list is in front of you and not swirling inside you.

Now you can actually see what needs to get done. So get to work right? Except, Wait! 

Say to yourself, “This is not my to-do list.” Okay now you, “This is not my to-do list.” One more time for effect, “This is not my to-do list.”


What you have before you is a log of everything. Everything you could think of. It is not what you have to get done today. It took longer than a week to fill your brain with this stuff it will take longer than a week to finish it all.

What we are going to do is to start chipping away at it by creating manageable to-do lists.  

Step 3: Write Today's To-Do's (Estimated time 5-10min)

Okay, now as you breathe out, consider what are the 3-4 things that are really important and need to get done this week. This will become your to-do list for today. Once you get these things done you are released from today's work to return to life and enjoying whatever comes your way. 






*Only if you can’t cut it down to 3, we would rather it be 3. 

Now, get those things before tomorrow starts.

That's it! Then tomorrow when you wake up pick 3-4 more things. Eventually, this long piece of brain dump paper is going to get smaller and your head is going to feel less full. 

Come back next week when talk about processing and sorting all of this information. #graphpaper.