ADHD: Brain Dump vs. Task List

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – December 21, 2020

DIG Coaching Practice - Aha BobAll too often, those with ADHD struggle with working memory challenges. If you are one of those individuals, you may have multiple thoughts or tasks in mind but have trouble organizing and sequencing them. ADHD coach Jeff Copper suggests doing a brain dump as the most effective strategy to help.

A brain dump gets all the ideas out of the head by listing them on a single sheet of paper or writing each one on a Post-It note. Whatever way you choose to do it will give you a simple working memory exercise to enable you to witness your working memory.

Once you have done that, then review them and eliminate the ones you really don’t need to keep and organize the others into a task list according to category or type or time, whatever works for you. This helps you to externalize things to minimize the need to use your working memory.

For more information on working memory, you may be interested in watching my video, “ADHD and Working Memory,” found at

Video Transcript:

Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach Jeff Copper. I’m here today to make a distinction between a brain dump and a to-do list.

In prior episodes, and if you look us up on YouTube, there will be a link to it, we did a video on working memory. In that video, I tried to put you in an experience to witness what working memory is like, and maybe even struggle with a little bit. With that being said, moving forward, all too often, those with ADHD, they sit down, and they’ve got all these ideas in their mind, and they sit down and they try a to-do list or something like that.

I find what’s most effective for them is first to do a brain dump, and that is just get all their ideas out of their head on paper. It could be a sheet of paper. It could be a Word document. What I find to be most effective is they actually write each idea on a Post-it. Post-it is really cool because you can just move them around and you can have them all spread out.

Once you have the brain dump done, you have everything out, then what you do is you take a look at all your ideas that are out, and then you begin to figure out which ideas you need to keep and which ideas do you need to discard. In that process, you can organize them, whether it be by category or associations. Certainly, for those who like mind maps, you could use that. I’m a categories person where I put a list of categories and what I want to put under them.

The concept really here is this interim step, and that is to capture all those ideas that are floating around in your head and get them out on paper, so one, you will no longer have to remember them, and number two, it’s very difficult to organize them in your head. Then once they’re out, you visually move them around and organize them. Now, this could be for to-do list. It could be for your ideas on a business, could be your ideas on writing a paper. It really doesn’t matter. The point really is that it’s a lot easier for those with ADHD and executive functioning issues to externalize those thoughts and get them out of your head.

To me, the difference is very profound between a brain dump and a to-do list, and I find it helpful for those that I coach to make that distinction and have them make the brain dump first and then manage into a to-do list.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this tip. Catch us for another great edition of Attention Talk Video. If you want to learn more about me, I’m an ADHD and Attention coach, just go to Take care.

4 thoughts on “ADHD: Brain Dump vs. Task List

  1. Hi, I wish I had the money for coaching. At 64, I am still trying to stay on task. Now I have 2 storage containers to sort. Yikes.

    Might you have an app to suggest?

    1. Two things. I’m piloting a program called Cognitive Ergonomics From the Inside Out. It is a new ADHD intervention. It isn’t one-on-one coaching but rather a program to help people problem-solve ADHD challenges using an engineering mindset. You can sign up to be notified when we go live by clicking here….

      As to sorting the two storage bins… no, I don’t have an app recommendation. Sorting means you have to think. What do I keep? What do I toss? Do I toss it in the trash or sell it? If you choose to keep it, you then have to choose where its home should be. Note… its current home is in the bin. Bottom line… the issue is thinking. An app is a tool to help you think. It doesn’t actually do the thinking for you. Maybe you could find a friend to help you think through sorting the bin. Thanks for your comment.

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