Ask the Experts

Q: “How Can I Prioritize My Brain Dumps Into To-Do Lists?”

Your to-do list is a long and overwhelming mishmash of random ideas scribbled down in the moment they hit you. How to organize, prioritize, and conquer your to-dos? Follow this advice.

Q: “I am overwhelmed by my to-dos. I just dump everything I need to do on one page and there is no rhyme or reason to how I list what I need to do. It’s frustrating and overwhelming. Is there a ‘right’ way to do a brain dump?” – FrustratedLister

Hi FrustratedLister:

Every day, my student and parent coaching clients insist they don’t NEED to write down anything. They are not correct. By putting your to-dos in writing, you’re already on the right track. Getting your to-dos out of your head and onto paper helps you visualize them, which makes ordering, prioritizing, and planning that much easier.

There is no right or wrong way to do a brain dump. Like with all things brain-based, your system must simply work for you so you will use it. I write everything I need to do on individual index cards, but others prefer to jot down items in one notebook. Neither system is right or wrong.

[Read: Finish Your To-Do List TODAY]

Here are a few ideas to help make your brain dump work for you.

  1. Make sure the tasks on your “brain dump” are truly tasks. What do I mean by that? I’ve seen “renovate kitchen” sandwiched between “get car washed” and “call the insurance company.” Broken down tasks for “renovate kitchen” may include, “call contractor,” “research refrigerators,” “visit Home Depot to pick up paint colors,” etc. Breaking tasks into manageable chunks makes them much easier to complete.
  2. Once you have your list of to-dos down, it’s time to make them actionable. The key here is to create some movement. It’s a simple trick I use to get those mundane to-dos to literally jump off the page. For example, instead of writing “plane ticket,” try “book airline ticket.” Instead of “doctor’s appointment,” write “Schedule doctor’s visit.”
  3. Group like with like. We want to avoid an overloaded to-do list and save you time by matching your tasks. When creating your dump, group together all your errands, phone calls, emails, etc. My coaching clients say this trick really helps with time management, and helps them stay motivated to complete their tasks.
  4. What is your priority today? I love that question as it is much more effective than “What do I need to do today?” in terms of prompting decision making, sequencing, and determining what is essential for you to get started on immediately. It’s not enough to know what’s on the menu. You need to know which dish you’re going to order first! Otherwise, you’re literally going to bite off more than you can chew. If you tend to have trouble finishing important things, start with the tasks that are most important and due the soonest. Then work on the less important stuff or things that have a longer deadline.

Brain dumping and prioritizing are covered in my book (#CommissionsEarned)! You need to visualize it to plan it. You need to plan it to achieve it. And to achieve it, you need to schedule it.

Good Luck.

To-Do List Help: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.

As an Amazon Associate, ADDitude earns a commission from qualifying purchases made by ADDitude readers on the affiliate links we share. However, all products linked in the ADDitude Store have been independently selected by our editors and/or recommended by our readers. Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.