“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”– David Allen
A well known piece of wisdom from the author of the highly popular and well known book Getting Things Done : The Art of Stress-free Productivity (affiliate link). David advocates having a “trusted system” in which you capture, store and surface information and actions at the right time. Over the past 15+ years I’ve tried various tools, systems and processes, but I’ve always failed to establish they key part of the above, a system I trust and thereby use with intentionality.
Each additional item I added to the system resulted in another information silo in which I studiously stored pieces of information or tasks, then never really looked at them. I was capturing most things in whatever app(s) were the current darling of the productivity works, promising to be the solution I’d been looking for and I ended up with information in many places with nothing to unite those stores of information. Worse yet I hadn’t been capturing everything so my brain was (is) still left to hold ideas and tasks, inducing anxiety about what I know, where I know it, and what I don’t know because it’s fallen through the cracks.
It’s not enough of a solution for me to store things without a system in which I act upon it, or feel secure in the knowledge that I have it somewhere safe and that I can easily retrieve it later should I need to.
Very recently I was introduced a second time to the concept of note-taking styles. The first time I believe I was only half paying attention, trying to absorb a Youtube video by Ali Abdaal, no doubt while also trying to work on something else. Ali was referring to a blog post on Ness Labs which talked about the three main note-taking styles:
- The architect. Structures ideas and information through planning, processes and frameworks.
- The gardener. Grows ideas through connects and exploration.
- The librarian. Collates information to build a catalogue of knowledge which they can easily search to retrieve ideas.
While I’ve acted much like the librarian in the past and do identify with that archetype by storing in notes in apps like Evernote, Apple Notes and KeepIt among others, I need more structure and processes to help me act upon the information and ideas I’m capturing. I recently discussed this with my wife, whom I believe knows me better than I know myself at times, and she instantly identified me as belonging to the architect archetype.
Perhaps my career over the last two decades as a Software Developer has influenced this. I’m also too chaotic, unfocused and susceptible to chronic, anxiety inducing procrastination. Without some systems and processes to guide me I struggle to find and/or maintain momentum.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”– James Clear from his book Atomic Habits
I have a lot of information stored in Evernote having (on and off) been a subscriber and/or user since 2009 so I’m not about to abandon it and I think it’s still a great place for me to most information, but given my affiliation with the architect style I’m now moving to use it in conjunction with Notion which I’ve already used with some success.
My main use for Notion has been cataloging my film photography using Notions relational database system to track rolls of film I’ve shot, how they were developed, what camera and processes were used.
I first came across Notion after it was mentioned by Ali Abdaal on his YouTube channel (you might sense a pattern developing here, go check out his channel it is very, very helpful and insightful), along with the ‘Second Brain’ system as taught by Tiago Forte. I didn’t pursue the the Second Brain system at that time as while I’m sure it provides tremendous benefit and could be worth the cost, I didn’t (and don’t) have sufficient funds to invest in that area of my life at the expense of other priorities. Maybe my priorities here were out of line with what would truly bring me the most benefit, I don’t know, but that was my gut feeling at the time and still is.
It’s hard to talk about Notion and not recognise the excellent work of Thomas Frank as an amazing advocate and teacher for the platform. Thomas recently launched his latest templates and guide to the platform - Ultimate Brain - Complete Second Brain Template for Notion and the recent release of Building a Second Brain book (affiliate link) by Tiago Forte gave me the key pieces to work on implementing my own Second Brain - a trusted system (Thomas Frank) and the knowledge and confidence to build my version (Thomas Franks tutorials and the Tiago’s book).
Building my Second Brain
I’ve started setting up Notion after buying the Ultimate Brain templates, using the support tutorials to help. I’m not moving everything over to Notion and tasks for some projects will still live in Things for now. Everything else, especially creative projects, collaborative work, and bigger projects that require more organisation, they will be going into Notion.
I ordered Tiago’s book in paperback form as it’s nice to have a physical copy of a book sometimes. Only a few chapters in I think I’ll be ordering it on Audible and also on Kindle so I can access it wherever I am and also listen to it multiple times (at a faster speed) to help it really sink in. I wouldn’t do that for every book but this might be worth owning in multiple formats. Since I’m unlikely to fully digest a book in a single reading, having the ability to listen to it while performing other tasks and to quickly refer back to it in digital form could be highly beneficial.