Getting the Important Stuff Done with TheBrain

January 5, 2011
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pblogo_checkWe are a society of overcommitted and far too busy people. Sometimes it can feel like our day is gone before we even get started. With so many responsibilities and projects moving at once it’s critical to manage and control the flow of your information, your time for each project and even the desirability of the projects themselves.

Last month we did a Webinar called “First Things First” that explored how TheBrain can be used for prioritization and focus of projects. Here are a few key principles that we discussed.

You Need to Capture and Clarify to Execute

The more stuff you can get out of your head and into a tangible visible form, the easier it is to organize these tasks and act on them. This also frees your mind from the mental clutter and stress of all your commitments. This is a key premise of David Allen’s GTD methodology and a key method of personal organization for busy executives.  TheBrain is ideal for capturing key goals and just stuff that is taking up mental space in your wet Brain.

Whether you are using David Allen’s “Horizons of Focus” or mind mapping key responsibilities in your life, crafting and visualizing the big picture will help you stay on track. So often we are busy but our heads are at the “runway level” – so focused on the daily grind we don’t see the broader implications of our plans. For instance, companies work very hard to promote and sell their products but they may fail to research and develop the right products for the future. Conversely, if we can’t even keep our heads above water because we are so mired in the task at hand it will be very difficult to make future plans.  Thus creating Thoughts for managing daily activities and long-term goals are both critical for your TheBrain.

David Allen talks about 6 levels of work which may also be thought of in terms of altitude.


TheBrain can visualize all horizons of focus.  The GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology asserts that if your mind is pre-occupied with a number of open loops and daily tasks, you cannot effectively focus on higher level life goals. That being said, because of the visual nature of TheBrain, you may decide to create a Brain or a specific area in your Brain exclusively for one or more of these horizons of focus.

From current to-dos, up to long-term goals this continuum of insight on projects must all be captured in your Brain.

Be Aware of Your Commitments

One way to really identify what is important and stay on track is to represent all your key commitments as Thoughts in your TheBrain. It’s quite telling to see how many you have and the connections they lead to. I suggest creating a Thought called commitments. (If you are using the GTD approach these would fall under the 20,000 foot altitude.) This section in your Brain will visualize all the key areas of your life. These might include family, community involvement, this quarter’s sales numbers, new design projects, trips with friends, etcetera.

Once you have all your commitments captured you will need to take a step back and prioritize or even delete a few!  You can use Thought types and tags in TheBrain to visually prioritize your responsibilities. Use bright colors to represent and visualize the more important projects or commitments.

Current Projects

Thought Types for “Green Lighted Projects” and your “Action Items” convey a visual priority when juggling multiple projects.

Seeing all this in your digital Brain enables you to be more conscious of what you need to focus on. From here you can either set some new goals for the year or use TheBrain to execute on your existing commitments through goal directed visualization.

Use Goal Directed Visualization

As the New Year is upon us, I suggest you start by creating Thoughts for all your key New Year’s resolutions or goals for 2011. These can be under your “Horizons of Focus” or in a new 2011 area in your TheBrain.

Now you can focus your projects and intentions with an end in sight. The idea is to direct your attention and energy from a set of obstacles to a set of choices: the more specific and definable the choices, the better the chance for success.

For example, under each goal or resolution you need to break it down and segment your desired achievement into manageable tasks. For instance, “Living to be 100” is a very concrete goal but unless you define key steps and milestones to get there, it’s just a pipe dream. Under this Thought you might include key research on longevity and health as well as key action-oriented Thoughts that will help you achieve your goal such as nutrition, exercise and stress management.


TheBrain’s outline view enables you to see all necessary steps for your goal.

For more information on goal directed mapping see 7 Steps to Make Your Creative Vision a Reality

Add supporting child Thoughts that break down how to achieve your goal. Aggregate and integrate the necessary supporting information. These might include web sites, project plans, and budgets so all relevant material is instantly accessible under your goal. Use PersonalBran’s drag and drop to consolidate all relevant resources. You can also set reminder Thoughts with TheBrain’s calendar so you can come back and check on things.

Create Visual Workflows

Each phase of reaching your goal will involve a number of tasks. All your tasks and to-dos can be tracked and organized in TheBrain. Don’t hesitate to add functional Thoughts to your Brain, Thoughts such as:  To Do Today and Weekly Review.  Under these Thoughts you can create Thoughts for all your to-dos. When an item is completed it can be linked to another area for future reference or deleted. Some users like to create lists in the TheBrain notes area. TheBrain includes checkboxes which makes trackable lists, easy.

I also have a Thought in my Brain called “Waiting for.” This is particularly useful to track things that you are waiting for an action on, such as: your CEO’s approval, client input, graphic assets etcetera. You can even drag and drop email messages under this Thought from Outlook, Apple Mail or your web mail. 

For more detailed overview of using TheBrain and GTD read “Getting Things Done with TheBrain”.

Focus by Putting Stuff Away

During our day we are often pleasantly surprised but nonetheless interrupted by new articles, new purchase ideas and other happenings.  TheBrain gives you focus by providing that place where you can put things away with the confidence of being able to get to them at a moment’s notice when the time is right. This helps you control your time and priorities.

Try to categorize all these distractions and create Thoughts for them in TheBrain. This way when you stumble across a new book you want to buy online, you can put it under that Thought and come back and reference it when you’re buying books. By controlling the flow of information through TheBrain you allow your mind to focus on the task at hand and keep your priorities at the forefront without getting distracted.

So yes, creating Thoughts for all your distractions will help you stay focused. Some Thoughts that I have for this purpose include:  I Need to Read, I Need to Buy, Cool Trends, and This Weekend …. It’s about creating a place for you to capture and return to action items. This area can also be great for self-analysis. You can even have a Thought called “Today’s Distractions” and start to collect and understand what types of issues, ideas or circumstances force you to change gears and lose focus.

Achieve Multifaceted Focus

By capturing key aspects of your life you can optimize your time and take your projects to new heights. TheBrain can help you gain a clear vision of what you can do or even what needs to be put aside. Referencing and achieving our past projects, integrating and visualizing present plans and then mapping out and creating Thoughts for key goals for the future will provide you with a complete view for making better choices.  You will able to step back from everything and focus on your life’s purpose, or dive deep into daily details operating easily at any altitude or perspective in your Brain.

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Filed under: Applications. How You Can Use TheBrain!, Getting Things Done | Posted on January 5th, 2011 by Shelley Hayduk

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