One Brain or Many? Approaches to Creating a Brain

March 17, 2010
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layeredPlexesThere is no limit to the number of Thoughts and connections you can make in a single Brain.

This unique ability of PersonalBrain makes it ideal for visualizing and organizing large information networks as well as moving beyond standard mind mapping applications

Many users take advantage of PersonalBrain’s scalability and create an all compassing Brain for everything. While others opt for smaller, separate Brains. In this article I will explore each approach to creating a Brain and provide some guidelines for what might be best for you. 

One Brain for Everything
The idea here is to digitize your mind. It starts with a single Thought and grows more powerful as you use it. The best way to get started on this type of Brain is to start with your  name as the first Thought, then create a business and personal section, and continue creating Thoughts for all aspects of your life.

Now there really is no limit. This is your mental space.

In fact Jerry Michalski. a well known technology analyst has a Brain of over 123,000 Thoughts


Browse through Jerry’s Brain on


jerrymTo best represent the one brain approach I asked Jerry Michalski the following  questions for our users:

1.       What approach or goals did you have when you started your Brain?

“I was an analyst in the tech business when the Internet showed up, so I started with wanting to note the many players and their relationships. I discovered quickly that I could have a startup, their investors and PR agents, their industry category and competitors, all neatly tucked into one screenful and very easily navigated. That had been impossible for me with prior tools like Ecco, HyperCard, FileMaker and several others. I was happy.”  

2.       Do you recommend starting with one Brain or many?

“I’ve poured all my Thoughts into a single Brain, which is all I recommend doing. The pleasure of adding something to an existing rich context is immense. It compares very favorably with starting from scratch every time.”

3.       How did your Brain evolve over time?

“Every now and then, consistently, I get an Aha! experience that leads me to add a new Thought, or divide some Thoughts into sub-categories and move them around. I call it gardening, and it’s constant. That plus natural growth of new areas is how it grows.”

4.       How often are you adding new Thoughts and how do you maintain your Brain?

“I’m at 123,000 Thoughts added consistently over 12.5 years, so a little under 30 Thoughts a day, every day. Slowly :)”


I also have one large Brain where I store all my information and then a few topic oriented Brains for presentations I do and things I want to publish on

For me having one Brain with everything allows me to move very quickly to different topics throughout the day and shift focus quickly. My day changes a lot. I might be in the marketing area of my Brain and my contractor calls me about some work. I can activate that Thought in a second and have a more productive conversation by referencing the area for the renovations I’m planning. It’s also very interesting to go back to an area that you haven’t been to in a while. PersonalBrain becomes your digital memory. You will discover ideas about your life that would otherwise be forgotten. And yes there is a degree of ego in this. I love having a big Brain. It’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Even if you don’t have one Brain for absolutely everything, I do recommend having a single Brain for all the Thoughts you will use within a single setting or workflow. For example, if you are a marketing executive you probably want to have a single Brain that has everything on marketing including sales and customer service since you will probably be juggling multiple projects in all three departments throughout your day.

Create One Brain for Everything When:

  • You have an intermingling of personal, business and everything under the sun projects happening throughout your day
  • You want to activate different subjects/Thoughts concurrently. Make sure those topics are all in the same Brain to take advantage of PersonalBrain powerful Instant Activate feature
  • You want to create an expansive knowledgebase or digitize your thought processes on your entire life

This approach of “One Brain for Everything” will be quite different for those of you coming from a mind mapping perspective. Mind mappers are forced to create topic specific maps because mind maps are file based rather than database driven.  Practically speaking a mind map cannot hold more than a few hundred topics. If you’re used to conventional mind maps, PersonalBrain will open up a new modus of thinking and working for you. With PersonalBrain you can even import your mind maps into your PersonalBrain to get that master view of everything and leverage all the work you have done in other programs.

That being said, you can, of course, continue to create separate Brains if you prefer, which I will discuss next.

Topic Specific Brains
If the thought of having one large Brain on everything in your world seems daunting, you are also in good company. There are many PersonalBrain users who create separate Brains for their projects, areas of study and life. In fact, there are many situations where a topic oriented, separate Brain might work better. 

Matt Caton, our director of customer solutions, prefers to work with separate and distinctive Brains. Matt has a Brain for support, hobbies, special projects, travel and dozens more. Each of these Brains is separate with different wallpaper and topic focus. Matt also uses Brain buttons to move quickly between each Brain.


Matt’s Topic Oriented Brains help him dive into the separate projects and responsibilities of his life

When you have a topic focused Brain your instant active list is more targeted and you can share this file based on its topic easily.

Creating a New Brain is Recommended When

  • You are publishing or sharing a specific topic with other users
  • You would like some firm lines between business and personal projects
  • You need a fresh start on a new topic or want to take a new direction from your existing Brain

Like most users, though Matt has multiple brains, he still has one major Brain he has opened. It is his “CyberHome” Brain.  Matt also imports several of his smaller brains into other brains from time to time.  (To learn more about Matt’s Brains join Matt every Friday for PersonalBrain 101)

Going from Small to Big Brains or the Reverse…
Not sure which approach to take? Don’t worry about it. We make it pretty easy to change your mind. If you already have multiple Brains and want to bring them all together you can import one brain into another. Just go up to File and select Merge to get the Brain you want to add and merge it. Conversely if you have a larger Brain and decide you want to make a set of Thoughts into a separate new Brain, you simply select all the Thoughts in that area and copy them into a new Brain.  The first tutorial below covers both these scenarios:

Related Tutorials and Tips

  1. Copying Thoughts and Merging Brains. Simply right click to copy and then paste Thoughts. You can do this between Brains or within one Brain.
  2.    watchnow

  3. Brain Buttons. Setup Brain buttons to switch between your favorite Brains easily.


Regardless of the approach you take, your PersonalBrain will help you see and organize information in ways that just aren’t possible with lists and folders.

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Filed under: All Entries | Posted on March 17th, 2010 by Shelley Hayduk

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