Today’s most elite players have elevated their life’s systems to create a higher performance life. They know that computers are much more powerful than their minds when it comes to remembering tasks and notes. They also know that their mind is much better used for creative thinking and strategic problem-solving.
The goal of creating an externalized mind is to develop systems for removing the mundane functions that software can accomplish much more effectively than the mind can. By using these systems, you can free up vast areas in your head. Often, you’ll find that you are significantly less stressed than beforehand and far more creative.
So what are the four main systems I use to create an externalized mind?
- Note Storage or Filing Cabinet
- Personal Calendar
- Project Management Dashboard
The following diagram shows how these 4 systems interact with each other to process inputs and create results:
The Four Main Systems of an Externalized Mind
1. The Notepad System: The purpose of this system is to dump ideas or thoughts as they arise here. I often come up with some of the most interesting ideas when I’m away from my desk socializing with others, on a hike or during my daily runs. Often, I don’t have the time to execute on the idea or thought at that very moment so the notepad system will serve as a place to “dump” the idea for later use.
It can be utilized for not just ideas but any loose thought such as “I should really send out that important email later this week”. Usually, towards the end of the day, I’ll process my in-notes so they can be acted upon.
The following three systems are where ideas will move to. Sometimes, If a thought is something that can be completed in two minutes or less, I’ll typically try and complete it while I am processing my notes.
- Examples of Notepad Systems: An actual notepad, Google Keep, Apple’s Remainder’s, ColorNote for Android
Tip: Avoid using this system to store complex ideas. This because the purpose of this system is to record thoughts quickly. You’ll notice the below system for note storage is very similar. This is true, however, it is more of a storage place for all your notes. If you were to record your quick notes into this system I guarantee it would be challenging to organize them in a timely manner. The goal with the notepad system above is to keep it simple and use it just for loose thoughts.
2. The Note Storage System: This system is similar to the notepad system mentioned above. However, for the notepad system, I usually like to keep it clean and will actively seek to remove anything that enters it. The note storage system is the opposite. This is the place where you will store your thoughts, ideas, and notes from different areas of your life.
The first thing to think about is the organization for this system. This should not be overlooked. Without it, you will find it challenging to access items in your storage system in a timely manner and the system will not run at full efficiency. So first organize, then you can start dumping your ideas, thoughts and whatever else into the framework you create here.
I’ll post a blog post in due time on this system in more detail. Stay tuned!
3. The Project Management Dashboard: The purpose of this system is to record all of the personal projects you are working on and prioritize which ones are most important for moving the needle forward towards your visions.
I organize the tasks into each Imperative and then label the tasks with their priority level (such as important tasks to backlogged tasks). Every week, I review the projects in my dashboard to determine where I should be focusing my time on. I’ll then add important to-do’s and action items to my personal calendar to complete them during that week.
4. The Personal Calendar: This system is critical in living at high levels of performance. Without it, I would be forgetting important meetings, not leaving time for relaxing, and not moving towards my goals in life. So what makes for a successful personal calendar system and how does this relate to the externalized mind?
First off, think of your personal calendar as a system for managing your time, which is your most valuable asset. All priorities should be posted on here so you know how much surplus time you have to work with. When tasks and ideas come through your Notepad system, they will either go to your filing cabinet for storage, the project management dashboard for prioritizing tasks or directly to your calendar to be completed during your day.
Check out my post on the calendar system for more information how to best utilize it to transform your life.
When you successfully utilize each of these systems and expand on them to meet your personal needs, you can develop the externalized mind and free yourself to think of more creative ideas and help improve yourself and the world. Good luck!
Bill Womeldorf is an energy efficiency consultant and real estate entrepreneur in Boston, MA. He’s typically the one with the reusable water bottle in business meetings. When we all work together, he believes, it’s possible to solve the climate crisis. You can follow Bill on twitter @BillWomeldorf and read more about self-improvement and sustainability on his blog.