The Voluntary Life: 120: Eight Tools That Will Free Your Mind

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7 August 2013

120: Eight Tools That Will Free Your Mind

Listen to Episode 120
This episode provides an overview of eight tools that can free your mind and massively boost your productivity. One of the things that makes us human is our ability to extend the power of our minds with tools. The tools are only effective when combined with the right habits (repetitive behaviours). Be sure to look up and learn more about the productivity habits mentioned with each tool.

1. A Concentration Timer

Your mind is not free if you are distracted and interrupted all the time. A concentration timer is a simple tool that helps your mind focus for short bursts of concentration and then give your brain rest periods. A concentration timer is just a stopwatch with an alarm. Examples include a stopwatch app or a simple kitchen timer. The habit needed to make the most of this tool is to forgo multi-tasking, take regular breaks, and protect your concentration when working by managing interruptions. To learn more about the best practice habits for using a concentration timer read about The Pomodoro Technique.

2. A Journal

Writing is an amazing ability unique to humans. Getting your thoughts out of your head by writing them down gives your mind far more freedom to explore them and view them objectively. A journal can simply be a pen and paper, or a dedicated physical journal, a digital journalling app like Macjournal  or web based journalling service like 750 Words. Use a password protected journal app (or a lockable one if paper-based) to give your mind full freedom to express anything. The habit required to make the most of a journal is to maintain regular journalling every day. Read more about journalling in The Ultimate Guide to Journaling.

3. A Ubiquitous Capture Tool

A ubiquitous capture tool or mobile thought and information capture tool gives you the opportunity to have potentially useful ideas anywhere but still allows you to get on with your day (and not have to remember everything).  Examples of a capture tool can be a simple pen and paper, a Hipster PDA, a note taking app like Drafts or Evernote, even the voice memo or camera feature of your phone.  Read more about capture tools in Getting Things Done by David Allen.



4. A "Stuff Funnel"

A stuff funnel is a system of discrete inboxes to funnel new information into one location where it can be processed. All kinds of stuff shows up in your life (letters, emails, receipts, manuals, downloaded files etc) and clogs your mind. In order to mentally 'process' the stuff and identify what you want to do with it, you need a complete set of inboxes. Since most people have both a physical inbox and various digital inboxes (email inbox, download folder, task manager inbox  etc), you can think of the full set of your inboxes as a funnel for information coming into your life. The habit needed to make good use of this tool is to make sure you put all the stuff that comes into your life into a designated in-box that is part of your funnel and clear the funnel regularly (empty all the in-boxes). Read more about processing stuff in Getting Things Done by David Allen.

5. A Task Management Tool

A task management app is a tool to organise and work with all your "to-do" items, projects, goals and other task management information. If you don't use a tool for this, these to do items remain constantly on your mind, taking up mental effort. At the simplest level, a pen and some paper can serve as a task management tool. Various software apps can also be used, such as Things, Omnifocus and Evernote. These tools are only effective when combined with the habit of organising all your project and task information in the tool and working with it daily.

6. A Reference Material Store

A reference material store allows you to put information that  you might need in future in a safe place, freeing your mind to forget about it. A filing cabinet is a physical example and Evernote is a digital example. The habit needed to make use of this tool is ensuring that you put all the information you might need into your reference store.



 7. A Mind Mapping Tool 

Mind maps free you to be conscious of all the intuitive connections that your mind can make. They are bubble and stick diagrams of your thoughts and their connections. A mind mapping tool can be as simple as a pen and paper, or a specific application like iThoughs HD. It can take some time to develop the habit of doing mind maps and allowing yourself to make those intuitive connections, but it is well worth it.



8. A Media Queue System

A media queue system is a set of tools to allow you to save media to consume later, so you can avoid being distracted when someone sends you a link. You might see an interesting article online and use a tool like instapaper to save it to read later. Similarly youtube has a watch later feature and Amazon allows you to make wish lists for things you may buy later.

Show Notes

The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo (downloadable pdf)
The Ultimate Guide to Journaling by Hannah Braime
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Getting Things Done Virtual Study Group Podcast

Podcast Episode

1 comment:

  1. I've tried most of the softwares you recommend, but for the most part, I tend to use a combination of Do.com, Google (Drive, Cal, Gmail) and Dropbox. Do.com works well for task and project management (and notes too), while I use Drive and Dropbox for accessing files on the run and at the office. I need to start using a mind mapper, but haven't found one yet that works between Mac and Android.

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