A peaceful day at Lake Lanier

Second Brain: The value of an uncluttered mind

Several years ago, I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. I spent the next few years trying to implement GTD, as it is commonly called, but never could quite make it fit my workflow. I found it to be too rigid, too paper-focused, and too hard to stick with. However, it planted a seed in my mind, especially around the capture step. If I was ever going to get my life under control, I needed a system that helped me get things out of my brain.

Since then, I’ve tried electronic GTD systems on a few occassions, a Bullet Journal for maybe a week, Strikethru for a few months, and a dozen to-do apps for a while each. They all worked, but none of them worked. I would always settle back in to emailing myself reminders and treating my inbox as a to-do list. I have practiced Inbox Zero for several years, so that resulted in an anxiety-inducing blend of too many emails and forgotten items. It was never anything that impacted my performance directly, but it just plain stressed me out.

When the pandemic hit, I decided to take a different approach, largely out of boredom. After trying Microsoft ToDo and Apple Reminders because of my Office 365 and iOS usage respectively, I picked up ToDoist again. If you are unfamiliar, ToDoist is a really powerful option in the space and can even serve as a GTD system. I appreciate the intelligent application of timing from the text entered. “Do this thing tomorrow” has it added to my todo list tomorrow without me thinking about it. 

I started with recurring to-dos, which gave me a reason to look at the list and a number to notice on the application icon on my phone. Starting with things I did first thing in the morning gave me something to check off early in the day, like making the bed in Adm. William McRaven’s speech. These small wins caused me to stay in the system and continue every day. This felt pretty good! However, something was still missing; I needed somewhere to put other thoughts and notes.
I used Evernote for a while, but inconsistently. It’s good, but I found it was hard to find things after I put them in. I also wished I could form relationships between items, so I could collect more details across multiple entries. I hated (and still do) the structure of OneNote, because my brain rebels against that much organization. I was binge-watching Youtube videos one night and saw the great Ali Abdaal talking about Roam Research

After using Roam for a few days, I fell in love with the unstructured notes and timeline view. There were some minor annoyances, which I will post about in more detail later. However, it felt amost perfect. Almost.  A few days later, I saw another YouTube video by Srinivas Ral from The Unmistakable Creative, in which he showed off a new site called Mem.ai

Mem is very much like Roam, except instead of a daily notes page, every note is a block that gets displayed in a timeline view, which has been much more intuitive for me. I’ve only been using it for a week, but I find myself wanting to take more notes. I also find it just as easy to write long-form as it is to jot down a single sentence. Finally, I have somewhere I like to capture things.

Last night, as I was lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep, I had an idea for a blog post. It was going to be “what is the value of an uncluttered mind”. I had the thought, rolled over, and grabbed my phone. I opened the Mem page, added the idea, tagged it, put my phone down, and went to sleep. I woke up this morning and saw my note. When I got to my “Write something” to-do, I knew exactly what I wanted to write. 

That takes us all the way back to the beginning and to the title of this post. What is the value of an uncluttered mind? To me, it is a remembered idea and a good night’s sleep. It is being free to stop thinking about things. It is space to be peaceful.

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