Thought Types and Thought Tags – Updated Mar. 2015

February 25, 2013
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matrix.pngAdding More Meaning to Your Brain

There are so many possibilities for classification and organization of information in TheBrain. If you are just creating a new Brain, the first step is to map out your ideas with Thought relationships. Once this is done, you can add another compelling level of insight to your knowledge map with Thought Types and Tags.

If you are still deciding how to structure your Thought relationships new to TheBrain, as precursor to this article, I suggest reading Parent Child or Jump?  What relationship do I choose?

Now on to Thought Types!

Thought Types
Thought Types
Thought Types are an additional classification of meaning you can add to your information. Thought Types are useful for grouping large amounts of Thoughts that don’t necessarily fit under the same area in your Brain.

You can use Thought Types to help you specify key types of information that are relevant to your business or projects. If you are creating a brain for your company, you might have Thought Types for managers, directors or executives, clients, customers, partners, and even project phases.


Thought Types have a mouse-over label to indicate the Type. You can also set icons and colors for each Type to see them easily.


An IT manager might have Thought Types for different classes of applications he or she manages.

Classification and Functionally Oriented Thought Types
Really any Thought Type that works for you goes.  To distinguish two different uses of Thought Types you can think of them as either “Classification Oriented” or “Functionally Oriented”.

Classification Oriented Thought Types are more “objective” attributes. Examples include person, place, or employee position.


The above Brain uses classification oriented Thought Types to show Phylum (Orange) , Class (Purple), Order (blue), and Family (Green) in the Animal Kingdom.

Note that by Thought Typing this information you don’t have to create additional Thoughts for these classifications.

Functionally oriented Thought Types are more subjective in nature, examples might include:  “Best Web site”, “Good Deal” or “My Favorite”. It’s important to note that you don’t necessary have to have a completely consistent and formal classification for your Thought Types. I really like functionally oriented Thought Types because you can still gain much utility by visually distinguishing Thoughts based on more subjective attributes.

For instance, you can create Thought Types to visually distinguish information from the rest of a larger group of Thoughts that has special meaning to you.


In this example I have a yellow Thought type for “Great Web Site”, green Thought Type for “Good Flash Reference” and orange for “My Favorite Web Site”. This makes these Thoughts stand out over and above the others.

Setting Your Display to Organize By Thought Type
If you enjoy having many Thoughts under one category, Thought Types can help you see key levels of classification at a glance while still having everything connected directly to a central Parent Thought.


Right click on the background, select “Arrange Thoughts by” and “Type”. All Thought of the same Type will be displayed together.

Super Types

You can only have one Thought Type per Thought but Thought Types can belong to a Super Type. Super Types represent a family of Thought Types. For instance you might have the Thought Type of “Person” as a Super Type of the Types “Manager” and “Executive”. This allows you to indicate that a Thought of the Type “Manager” is also a “Person” and when you use reports to look up Thoughts by Type this can be very useful.

From Thought Types to Thought Tags

If you find you want to add many more attributes to your Thoughts then a single Thought Type can accommodate, or you are creating a lot of functionally oriented Thought Types, you will probably want to start using Thought Tags.

Thought Tags

Thought Tags as the name suggests let you tag your Thought with additional attributes and contexts to further define or classify it. You can have as many Tags per Thought as you like. Furthermore, you can activate a tag by selecting it from the Tags tab or using instant activate and all the relevant Thoughts appear. This makes it possible to aggregate items based on an attribute that might otherwise be logically scattered throughout your Brain.


Clicking a Thought Tag in the Tags Tool displays all the tagged Thoughts.

Thought Tags are especially useful for task lists and GTD users where you might have many different labels you want to add to a Thought. (For more information on how to use TheBrain for GTD see Getting Things Done with TheBrain)


Thought Tags appear to the side of your Thought. You can have as many Thought Tags as you need per Thought.

The Difference between Types and Tags: When to Use Each.
You can think of Thought Types as the primary attribute of the Thought. Note that when you set your Thought Type you can specify color and icon that distinguishes the type. With Thought Tags you can have as many as you want on a Thought and they need not be the defining characteristic or key attribute of a Thought. This is even reflected in their display in the interface; they are off to the side of the Thought.


Use Thought Types for Primary Attributes and Thought Tags for additional classification.

As shown above, once all ideas for the company’s “Market Expansion” are captured, Thought Types are used to signify a primary attribute of an idea. In this case, something that is a “Green lighted project” or a “Hot topic” which has generated much debate is identified with a Thought Type. Thought Tags for “Cost” and “Timeframe” are used to show key factors that will affect executing these ideas. (For more information on using TheBrain for brainstorming see Visualizing Decisions and No Limits Brainstorming)

Information Architecture Issues Solved by Thought Types and Tags

Thought Types and Tags can help you evolve your Brain in the following ways:

  • Prioritize or highlight key Thoughts out of large groups. Using Thought Types helps you Identify key information sets at a glance
  • Provide a consistent framework for visually distinguishing information beyond Parent, Child and Jump relationships.
  • Allow classification of many Thoughts without necessarily breaking things down under additional child Thoughts.
  • Avoid creating frivolous categories in your Brain. For instance, I would never have a Thought in my Brain called “when talking to CEO” but my tag “CEO”, which I use to tag key Thoughts in my brain, is perfect for this!
  • Filtered reports and searches can be generated in the reports tab with Thought Types and aggregate displays can be visualized with Thought Tags.

So what are you waiting for? Type or Tag a Thought Today!

Video Tips:

Thought Types

Thought Tags

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Filed under: Feature Focus and How Tos, Most Popular Articles | Posted on February 25th, 2013 by Shelley Hayduk

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