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On Systems for Thinking & Writing

book cover that reads: Building a Second Brain, by Tiago Forte

In last week's newsletter, I mentioned a handful of systems for curating and keeping track of your thoughts and resources. My all-time favorite example of this is Jerry's Brain.

I've ghostwritten dozens of books over the years, as you may know. I'm an Elite Ghostwriter for Forbes Books and I write for my own clients. I also wrote my own book. Some of you wrote in asking what system I use, and I'm not a good example because:

1) I've been doing this for a long time, as in, since before the Internet; and

2) If my client has a system I use theirs because my goal is as little friction in the process as possible.

3) Because I use different systems for different projects, I have so many thoughts about them I don't think I'd be helpful.

Let's face it, people, I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of things.

Use Someone Else's System

As long as that someone isn't me.

I like Tiago Forte's system and recommend it. It's similar to what I use for my own work (like this blog!), but he spends time explaining the Why and the How of it all.

Also, my brain is kind of wonky. Maybe because of my mindfulness practice, I'm more interested than the average bear in watching how my brain operates. My system would probably drive Tiago Forte bananas. But it works for me.

Why You Need a System

We all consume a lot of information, and frequently leave it behind only to test our browser histories, our memories, and the configuration of our cloud folders when we need to recall a quote or an idea.

If you have a system for dumping everything interesting to you in one place, and you have a system for organizing it and making it searchable, you free up your mental bandwidth.

Systems for organizing media you consume lighten your mental load, increase your sense of security that the information is searchable, and increase your capacity for allowing everything swirling in your brain to integrate and synthesize in magical ways.

When you're not concerned with: What was it that the guest on Lex Fridman said that stopped me in my tracks when I was running and who was the guest anyway? Life is much easier and more enjoyable. Fridman's podcasts are hours long. How much time and agony are you willing to go through to find what you're looking for? And how many times a week do you go on informational scavenger hunts?

Another thing that happens when you have a system is your percolation time is better spent. Everything you've read and watched is in your brain somewhere. One of the wonderful things about the human brain that Large Language Models and other AI cannot do, is make connections between and among wildly different ideas. Even not so wildly different. Something I read in evolutionary biology connects with a paper from linguistics, something that happened on a meditation retreat, and a conversation I had with a friend, and suddenly I'm making a video or writing a blog post or an article.

Your brain needs space, time, and energy to connect and ideate, both in a divergent way and then in a more focused way if you're going to create new things. Fortunately, your mindfulness practice helps cultivate both of those. Here's an Open Awareness practice for divergent thinking.

Here's a Focused Attention practice for convergent thinking.

Thinking takes practice, and that practice frequently doesn't involve thinking. It involves preparing the mind.

Have fun preparing your mind for your next genius idea to emerge!



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