The Inbox for your Brain

The Inbox for your Brain


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I want to share a quick productivity tip that’s been working wonders for me these past few weeks. In David Allen’s Getting Things Done, he introduces the key idea that our brains are for having ideas, not for storing them. We cause ourselves a lot of undue stress when our brain’s RAM is bursting with commitments, unfinished projects and half-formed ideas.

The solution, Allen argues, is to capture thoughts down the instant they enter our mind. It’s like keeping a to-do list, but on steroids - every thought that even has the potential to remain as an unclosed loop in our minds, gets captured and stored externally (on paper, in an app etc) so that we don’t have to occupy our brains with the low-level task of hanging onto these things.

I’ve recently started doing this using the app Things. Things has become the inbox for my brain (or rather, my second brain). Any time I have the thought that I need to do something (eg: “uh oh, I need to upload my ALS certificate to my e-portfolio tonight”), or buy something (“damn I really should’ve ordered more toilet paper from Amazon Prime 2 weeks ago when I first realised we’d run out”), or an idea for a video (eg: “I should make a video talking about my favourite blogs”) or even some errant thoughts from a podcast (eg: “Roger vs Tiger model of learning, kind vs wicked learning environments, martian tennis *”) - these all go straight into my Things inbox, and therefore out of my brain’s RAM.

Once a week (or thereabouts) I then go through the inbox and classify everything relevant, moving it into my Things project areas, or creating a new note in Notion, or I actually do the task at hand, eg: sending the email that needs sending, or ordering that toilet paper I should’ve ordered weeks ago.

I’m still working on optimising the downstream systems to deal with this incoming data from my Things inbox, but I’ve already noticed how much more mental space I have now that I’ve stopped using my brain as a storage-device for the things I have to do.

If this sort of thing resonates with you, you should definitely read Getting Things Done. I know so many fellow productivity nerds who would say that book changed their life.

*PS: All these weird-looking thoughts were from the David Epstein interview on the podcast Invest Like The Best.

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