Can Writing Things Down (in a Braindump Notebook) Help Moms Master Stress?

A few weeks ago, when I realized writing my to-do’s in my weekly planner wasn’t working for me, I set an intention to come up with a better solution.

While I didn’t mind writing down my tasks, I just didn’t like the system in which I was doing it. Once a week, I would map out my week, assigning tasks to certain days, and for a little while that worked. Until, well, it didn’t.

I failed to account for the ups and downs of life as a highly sensitive person. I didn’t think about how that might impact my ability to get things done. My system was too structured. I needed more flexibility.

Sitting down once a week with my planner to decide when I’d do what just didn’t jive with my personality. I’m not sure if it’s an INFP thing or an HSP thing, but I’ve always known that I struggle with self-imposed structure. I’m most comfortable when I’m given the freedom to do what I want, when I feel like doing it.

This is ultimately why I’ve never been a to-do list person. I’ve always been more of a mental to-do list chick, relying on what I’ve come to find out is also known as the “silent to-do list.” I relied heavily on visual cues to remind myself of what needed to get done. This is probably why I get sidetracked when I walk into a room and see 10 things that need to get done and I forget what I was doing in the other room (*facepalm*).

So, fast-forward four kids, one hell of a 2020, and a case of COVID, and my brain is exhausted. It started to become overstimulating to run through my catalog of thoughts 50 thousand times a day. I needed to calm my mind. I needed structure.

When my planner didn’t give me the right kind of structure for jotting down the things I needed to get done, I stopped forcing myself to plan out my to-do’s and set out on a quest to see how other people manage their tasks.

That’s when I discovered the braindump notebook idea! In today’s post, I’ll share how I’ve come to use a braindump notebook to help me manage the stress and overwhelm of all the things on my to-do list. My hope is that if you’re feeling the same, maybe a braindump notebook is something that could help you, too.

Step 1: Weekly braindump

A braindump notebook is a place to log down your thoughts, ideas, and productivity-related things, projects, and tasks that are on your mind.

Once a week, I write down all my thoughts, in a list format. Well, not all my thoughts, exactly. Just the ones that have to do with getting things done, my to-do’s. (I use a journal for “braindumping” my feelings.)

I have a 3-subject notebook with a section dedicated to my weekly braindumps. I dedicate each week a full-page, front and back. Of course, that doesn’t mean I expect to get all these things done during that week.

Remember, the main purpose of using a braindump notebook is to log all the things I need to do so that they don’t keep living in my head.

Step 2: Color code by category

Within the first week of using this system, I knew that I needed to do something to categorize my list so that I didn’t have to read through each line item to find out what tasks I wanted to work on.

To keep it simple, I subdivided my list into 5 categories: clean, household, blog, to buy, and personal and assigned a color to each category.

Each week, after I make my list, I go through and highlight each item according to its assigned category color. It might seem tedious, but this extra step helps me later when I’m looking back on my list (more on that later).

Step 3: Daily braindump

Once my braindump is listed out and color coded, I review it every morning and add anything that has come up since the last time I wrote in it. That’s also when I sit down, look over the list and decide what I’ll work on that day.

Here is the beauty of this: Depending on the other events happening that day, I may select several items to tackle or only one or two. This daily routine of checking in with my list has dramatically improved how productive my days are (and how I feel).

This works for me because I never really know how my energy level will be each day and I prefer to use that as my basis for whether I should tackle 20 things or just two. As an HSP, it’s important for me not to overdo, especially when my body is craving recharge time.

Using this system, I’ve discovered that, typically, if I have a busy day, the following day needs to be lighter. Otherwise, I’ll burn out and feel overwhelmed if I try and push myself beyond my limits.

Step 4: Create a daily list of to-dos

While reviewing my weekly braindump list each morning, I use a daily to-do pad to write down what I’ll do that day. This particular one (pictured above) came in the most recent Erin Condren Spring Surprise box. (Ya’ll have no idea how excited I was that this pad was in there!)

Sometimes, if I’m not planning to do very much, I just use a sticky note or a small sheet of loose notepaper.

Ideally, I’d prefer to have some sort of bound book to house each day’s to-do’s, like a to-do book or daily planner (so it can close and truly be out of sight when I don’t want to see it). But for now, I’m just using what I’ve got on hand. (BTW, I’m eyeing the upcoming planner launches from Erin Condren and Bloom Daily Planners in hopes that I’ll grab something like that very, very soon.)

Step 5: Carryover uncompleted tasks week over week

Before I sit down and start my new weekly braindump, I look back on the previous week and decide what items from that list should be carried over and what items should not. Of course, completed tasks are simply crossed off, but if something was their last week and I’ve since changed my mind (maybe I don’t really want to alphabetize my DVD library), I’ll simply put an “X” next to it to indicate I’m not carrying it over.

When I first started braindumping, though, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep rewriting things each week because I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t getting stuff done. But, I ultimately realized I didn’t want to have to flip through a bunch of pages of past weeks in order to figure out what I wanted to do today. Taking the few extra minutes to rewrite items I’m carrying over is the better option for me.

Bottom line: Is writing things down actually helping?

After using this method of tackling to-do’s for over a month, I will say that somedays, I don’t open my braindump notebook at all. Which is totally okay with me, and how I’d prefer it.

If I don’t want to see my to-do list, I don’t want to see my to-do list.

That’s partly what bothered me about my tasks living in my weekly planner. Seeing my to-do list in my weekly spread used to trigger me into stress mode, making me not want to open my planner at all. Separating the two by utilizing a braindump notebook was just what I needed.

Also, the other reason why I wanted to start a braindump notebook was because it was getting exhausting trying to remember ev-er-y-th-i-ng. Now, I have a designated place for my to-do’s to live and that helps me feel way less overwhelmed.

And honestly, the act of writing things down has helped me see that I don’t actually have as many things to-do as I thought. Granted, the list is long, but it felt way longer in my head.

So, to answer the question of today’s blog post: Can writing things down (in a braindump notebook) help moms master stress?

Yes, I believe it can and it certainly doesn’t hurt to give it a try.

How do you manage your to-do list?

Do you use a braindump notebook, too? Do you use a planner and like to write your to-do’s in there? Do you use a notepad or separate book for helping you tackle your daily to-do’s?

Or are your to-do’s living in your head like mine were? I’d love to hear your system and how it’s working (or not working) for you! Leave a comment below or send me a DM on Instagram.

Love & light,

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