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Deep Dive #17 August Bradley on Systems Thinking, Notion and Goals

August Bradley is a business performance coach, strategist, entrepreneur and Notion expert. In our conversation, August shares insights from his career as a systems thinker, walks through his Notion workflow and shares his thoughts on the value of goals.

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

August Bradley is a business performance coach, strategist, entrepreneur and Notion expert with over 25 years of startup and major brand experience. During his career, he has provided creative and strategic solutions to leading brands including Coke, Kia and Xbox but has now become one of the leading experts on Notion. In our conversation, August shares insights from his career as a systems thinker, walks through his Notion workflow and shares his thoughts on the value of goals.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

Complex systems are emergent. Successful systems don’t begin as complex systems. They emerge from a successful small system that is then built around and becomes increasingly complex as each part is tested along the way. This development of a comprehensive system is going to be more effective because it’s evolved to work in synchronisation and each part enhances others.

Systems thinking enables you to see causal relationships between parts and dynamic relationships between things. If you are studying the parts individually, the power of the system isn’t visible. Traditional thinking breaks things down into parts but the magic of a car, for example, is not how individual components work, it’s how the whole car works in combination.

Most of what we see in life is linear but systems tend to be circular. Ultimately we want to be looking for when the effect of a circular process feeds positively back into the system. The aim is to identify the exponential curves coming from these feedback loops so when we’re designing systems we look to build positive loops and break negative ones.

Weekly and monthly reviews are about focus and alignment. They enable us to focus and reflect on the progress we’ve made and serve as a moment to realign if we have drifted off course. These reviews provide the master keys to personal productivity because they ensure accountability and help us to stay on track with our projects, goals and wider life purpose.

Visualisation is a useful tool to help manage anxiety and prepare us for future events. When we visualise a future event, we develop a mental model and create a default path that we can revert back to automatically when that future event arises. For example, if we have a presentation to give, we should visualise executing the presentation flawlessly because it creates a pattern that we can then resort to automatically when we come to give that presentation. Whilst this is clearly not a substitute for having experienced the event, it provides a useful tool for preparation.

Meditation is not about making your mind go blank – it’s about being completely present. If we don’t learn to be present in the moment, we’re just going to have a collection of memories that we weren’t even there for.

Practising meditation enables you to recognise that the thoughts and stories that are generated by your mind are not who you are. By meditating you learn to step out and observe those thoughts and stories rather than believing them.

Systems and processes are important but the goal is the compass. These things are not mutually exclusive because a goal by itself is nothing. The system requires more effort but a goal is still essential to this relationship - you can't have one without the other.

By defining the goals, you can get a better sense of priorities and allocating your time. It also allows you to tie up loose ends more systematically. If there are loose threads everywhere, it burns energy that you could be using more usefully elsewhere.

Deep Dive

Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.