TheBrain Software and the To Do List
As one dives into Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), a method of capturing and processing tasks, or a List of items To Do, becomes a requirement. There are physical methods like Bullet Journaling, journals by Franklin Covey, and even the trusty back of an envelope. The list of software solutions is endless, from the simple “To Do” lists added to products like Microsoft Outlook to dedicated comprehensive applications like Todoist.
The To Do List is a preeminent need to satisfy for anyone looking for enhanced productivity.
As I am always on a quest to reduce the complexity of my PKM, of course, I wanted to be able to capture a list of To Do’s in TheBrain Software as it is the core of my PKM. So when TheBrain Software v12 introduced a To Do List, I decided it was time to spend a few months figuring out if I could collapse one more feature into a single application of my PKM.
In this article, I share some of what I have learned and how I use To Do’s in notes and the To Do List in TheBrain Software.
What Type of Thoughts use To Do’s in
If you have consumed any of my media before, you know I am a big fan of a few Thought Types. Specifically, I use a Thought type for Person, Projects, and Knowledge Acquisition. I will focus on one child Thought Type of Knowledge Acquisition in this article: Meeting Notes. You can use the same principles in any Knowledge Acquisition child thought type. I will also touch on the use of To Do’s in Person and Project Thought types as well.
As I create more Meeting Notes in my PKM than any other thought type, I have iterated this thought type and the template I use more than any other. At one point, I was iterating the template for Meeting notes more than once an hour as I tested it in meeting after meeting. With this level of refinement, I am most confident in their use. That is not to say that I am done refining, just that the refinement rate has decreased to the point where I feel there is enough value to share.
First, I use my template system to include two default To Do’s. By having them in my template, I never have to think about what to put in a meeting note. The template To Do’s are:
- Create a summary for this meeting
- What is the “Next Action.”
I like these as they ensure that I have a reason to go back to each meeting note, review it again, look for missing To Do’s, and document them. It also means I look at many meeting notes a second time and progressively Summarize them. (See Tiago Forte’s articles on Progressive Summarization for more information)
I should also mention that I segment my notes into five sections:
- Summary and Action Items
During a meeting, I might add To Do’s in the Notes section, but during my review and Progressive Summarization session, I move them all to the Action Items. I might also “clean up” my notes at the same time. Though I try to do this as part of closing out my Daily Notes, I often catch up with my meeting notes during my end-of-week or end-of-month reviews.
- My Article on using a code snippet too with TheBrain
- Tiago Forte’s articles on Progressive Summarization
My Project Thought Types are rather extensive, but I only want to focus on seven of them:
- Personal Project
- Business Project
- Review — Daily
- Review — Weekly
- Review — Monthly
- Review — Quarterly
- Review — Yearly
Really, these 7 break down into “Project Thoughts” and “Review Thoughts”
I use a lot of project principles from the book Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen and will assume that the reader has some familiarity. If you have not looked into GTD, I recommend you read or listen to it.
I treat my personal and business projects the same way. Having unique Thought Types for each is more of a sorting methodology. This means that in a project Thought, I use my project template based on GTD’s Natural Planning Model for either project type. The template has “Next Actions” as its first section, not because I want to create all the Next Actions first, but because I will be using that section most frequently for the life of the project.
Instead, I start with the What, Why, and How before that informs what the “Next Actions” should be
If you don’t want to dig into the details, you can skip down to Review Notes.
In this example, I will go through the process of making this article. The project template has a lot of tips and hints that you can delete if you want. That does make the note much cleaner. But I try to read them beforehand to ensure I am honoring the GTD principles and not getting lazy.
What — Outcome Visioning
What did I envision when I first set out to create this article? I wanted to create media that would help to educate those using TheBrain Software and those who might be interested in using TheBrain software on some techniques they might use with the To Do List feature now in TheBrain Software.
Areas to look at include:
- The types of Thoughts I recommend using To Do’s in
- A review of the To Do List functionality
- Advice on what to do when you realize you have too many To Do’s
Why — Purpose & Principles
My purpose for making media is always two-fold:
- It forces me to evaluate and document my own methods. Causing refinement along the way
- To create a larger ecosystem of TheBrain users communicating and sharing ideas and methods
- It must be done before 2022 week 47 — to keep with my commitment to release media once per week
- The media must be released on Medium and YouTube with links posted on Reddit, Twitter, and the Yazherix Discord server
You will notice that “How” already has action items: brainstorm and analyze. This mainly reminds me to keep the proverbial cart before the horse. Take a minute to brainstorm a few ideas before throwing them out.
Sometimes I will try to come up with wild ideas, but for media release, It becomes rather rote:
- Create the article outline in Ulysses
- Complete the article section copy
- Add images
- Record video
- Review the Article in Ulysses and modify based on the recording
- Publish to Medium and YouTube
Don’t forget to check off the Brainstorm and Analyze To Do’s once completed.
Finally, now that we know our What, Why, and How we can create the Next Actions for the project. This can be made using a dash (-) and a space for each line item you want as a To Do. Or, you can click the To Do button on the toolbar at the start of a new line.
I will often create an entire list of items To Do, but only set the next two or three as To Do’s. Leaving the rest of them as bullet points. (See below for: “I now have too many items on my To Do list, what do I do now?”)
One more tip — if you are creating a list of To Do’s and want to create a To Do that is already checked off, rather than using a dash (-) and a space, you can use a plus (+) and a space.
Only a few months ago, I was introduced to the concept of the “Daily Note.” At first, I was not a fan; it was part journal, part GTD, and part something I could not understand. So I played with it and watched a few more videos on people using Daily Notes. Then it clicked. I was already a fan of Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly reviews — why not augment that with a daily review in TheBrain software?
It was even more impactful for me as I was doing weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews in Todoist — but was not storing the results anywhere. It was just a checklist, so I had no way to see what I had learned. That is when I created a massive set of Thought infrastructure, adding a Thought for the current year, quarter, month, week, and day. I have even gone so far as to have pinned the current instances.
By having my reviews in TheBrain, I could look back at all of the Daily reviews to help build up “wins” and other knowledge for weekly reviews. Weekly reviews rolled into Monthly and on up the chain.
I now often sit on the couch in the evenings, typing up summaries and filling in my daily notes. It is both therapeutic and keeps me better prepared for the tasks that don’t want to slip away.
Note: I did not put the entire year in all at once — too much work, and TheBrain does not have a good automation process. Instead, I create the following week at the end of this week’s review. I will often create all the days for the next week simultaneously to be a bit more efficient. However, I do not add each day’s template until that day arrives. This shows the days that I was overwhelmed and did not document anything. Also, it does not overwhelm my To Do List with a bunch of items that are not yet relevant.
There are only two times I add To Do’s to a Thought Type of Person.
- Research prompts
- When I owe someone something outside of a project
As all of my meeting, project, and review Thoughts have the To Do’s related to 99% of my daily activities, that does not leave many things that I might want to add to a Person Note. By keeping all but the rare To Do out of Person Thought Types I have simplified what I need to review in any given week.
The exceptions above are just that — exceptions. I rarely owe someone something out of a project, but if there really is no other good place to record that deliverable, their Person Thought just has to do.
The research prompt is more common, as I keep a monolithic repository. This means that I do not have a separate repository for writing a book, learning a new subject in school, or anything else. Thus, I mix daily meeting notes in the same TheBrain repository as reviews on books, breakdowns of scientific theories, and everything else. Reading a book on the life of Richard Feynman might cause me to see if I can find out more about his ability to lock pick and safe crack. That is not really enough to create a project around, so I just add a To Do to look the information up.
The To-Do Pane
The To Do Pane can be toggled by clicking the “right panel” button directly next to the search box.
On the right pane are tabs for both the To Do List and Reports. Make sure you have activated the To Do List.
Directly under the tabs, you can see filters. Now is when using thought types starts to provide power to the process. By filtering on To Do’s from Meeting Notes, one can focus in on those tasks. Only important project tasks appear by using thought tags and removing To Do’s from abandoned projects.
That being said, I rarely filter my To Do list as I want to see everything at once.
Interacting in the To Do List pane
Though I may not filter the To Do List, I do interact with it in a few powerful ways. Primarily by using the collapse feature and the ability to modify To Do’s “inline.”
TheBrain software, v13 and up, has improved the ability to work with the To Do List in the Right Pane. It means I can collapse all the To Do’s in a Thought or collapse a section of To Do’s. I use this when reviewing my outstanding items to look for things that matter most, and purge items that do not matter.
I can also edit information in the To Do List. Meaning if I poorly wrote a To Do, I can correct it.
To jump to a thought that contains a To Do, click on the thoughts title in the To Do List.
I now have too many items on my To Do list. What do I do now?
This article would not be complete if I did not warn you that it is very easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the number of To Do’s you might create. Within a month of using To Do’s I had over 300 and realized that I would never actually achieve anything (if everything is important, nothing is important).
To combat this, there are a few techniques:
Don’t turn on all To Do’s. Use bullets for items not done or that need not be done yet. Then as you complete the currently actionable tasks convert the next tasks from bullets to To Do’s. I have colleagues who like this method, but I want to see everything at once. This lets me use bullets in the middle of To Do lists, like my dailies, to mean that I did not achieve the task and have exceeded the time frame to do so.
Instead of only showing the most actionable To Do’s, I have Next Actions on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis to purge with increased brutality. This forces me to become familiar with the outstanding tasks, better prioritize, or abandon the project they are associated with. However, by having this as part of my weekly review, I do not attempt to review all of my To Do’s every week — yet. I try to make it such that I examine every To Do each month, often deciding to do nothing with the associated Thought. Leaving time for my subconscious to determine what I should do about that task list for that personal research project that I added to TheBrain four years ago. By the time I get to a quarterly review, I am more likely to call a project abandoned and convert all the To Do’s to bullet points to save them if I want to resurrect the project later.
My weekly wander process is part of it, but at the end of a month, my goal is always to have fewer To Do’s than when I started.
YouTube companion: https://youtu.be/x7PKOXB0KPo
The Training Brain that I use can be found at: https://app.thebrain.com/brains/bbe70a2d-fe50-4a7a-b2dd-ee6fe08120d6/thoughts/2d2f9420-bbe2-4ffd-9607-a3349c124ebe/notes
You can discuss TheBrain and other productivity software on my Discord: https://discord.gg/nEBWkG49