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The Inbox for your Brain

Hey friends, I want to share a quick productivity tip that's been working wonders for me these past f
The Inbox for your Brain
By Ali Abdaal • Issue #61 • View online
Hey friends,
I want to share a quick productivity tip that’s been working wonders for me these past few weeks. In David Allen’s Getting Things Done, he introduces the key idea that our brains are for having ideas, not for storing them. We cause ourselves a lot of undue stress when our brain’s RAM is bursting with commitments, unfinished projects and half-formed ideas.
The solution, Allen argues, is to capture thoughts down the instant they enter our mind. It’s like keeping a to-do list, but on steroids - every thought that even has the potential to remain as an unclosed loop in our minds, gets captured and stored externally (on paper, in an app etc) so that we don’t have to occupy our brains with the low-level task of hanging onto these things.
I’ve recently started doing this using the app ThingsThings has become the inbox for my brain (or rather, my second brain). Any time I have the thought that I need to do something (eg: “uh oh, I need to upload my ALS certificate to my e-portfolio tonight”), or buy something (“damn I really should’ve ordered more toilet paper from Amazon Prime 2 weeks ago when I first realised we’d run out”), or an idea for a video (eg: “I should make a video talking about my favourite blogs”) or even some errant thoughts from a podcast (eg: “Roger vs Tiger model of learning, kind vs wicked learning environments, martian tennis *”) - these all go straight into my Things inbox, and therefore out of my brain’s RAM.
Once a week (or thereabouts) I then go through the inbox and classify everything relevant, moving it into my Things project areas, or creating a new note in Notion, or I actually do the task at hand, eg: sending the email that needs sending, or ordering that toilet paper I should’ve ordered weeks ago.
I’m still working on optimising the downstream systems to deal with this incoming data from my Things inbox, but I’ve already noticed how much more mental space I have now that I’ve stopped using my brain as a storage-device for the things I have to do.
If this sort of thing resonates with you, you should definitely read Getting Things Done. I know so many fellow productivity nerds who would say that book changed their life.
Have a great week!
Ali
*PS: All these weird-looking thoughts were from the David Epstein interview

This week's podcast
Not Overthinking | 013 - How can we deal with rejection? | Episode 13
Stuff I enjoyed this week
1 - Podcast - This episode of Invest like the Best was an interview with David Epstein, and is one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to. There were so many takeaways, and I recorded a 10-minute voice note in the car after listening to it desperately trying to record the thoughts I had while listening to it. In fact, I loved it so much that I re-listened to it earlier today (at 2x the speed, granted). I can’t even tell you what it’s about, because they cover so much stuff, but yeah, you should listen to it.
2 - Book - After enjoying Bad Blood I decided to broaden my horizons with more non-fiction, and turned to Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. He’s the chap who founded a small business called Nike. Again, I found myself flabbergasted by how good this was, having always assumed that non-fiction was ‘boring’. Much like Bad Blood, this kept me up well beyond my bedtime because it was just such a riveting and enjoyable read.
3 - Song - After watching Aladdin (and in fairness, even before watching it), I was obsessed with Jasmine’s new song Speechless. It’s just so nice.
Kindle Highlight of the Week
‘You make me angry’ or ‘You are so weird’ is neither respectful nor truthful, because the anger and sense of weirdness do not come from the other person, they come from the story we have made up.
From Happy by Derren Brown.
This week's video
My 7 Favourite iPad OS Features - Apple WWDC 2019
My 7 Favourite iPad OS Features - Apple WWDC 2019
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Ali Abdaal

Hey friends, I'm Ali, a Cambridge medicine graduate now working as an FY1 junior doctor. I spend most of my spare time making YouTube videos, but every Sunday I send out an email 'newsletter' with some thoughts, life lessons and interesting articles I discover on the internet.

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Ali Abdaal, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, CB2 8RP