Craft An External Brain To Become More Productive

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Illustration to represent an external brain

Have you ever thought about using an external brain system to streamline your productivity? Curious about what an external brain even is? If you’re constantly searching for a way to become more organized and productive, this technique could help you.

What’s an External Brain?

Before we explore the meaning of the external brain, let’s understand why it’s important. 

We all have our typical “internal brain,” which is our day-to-day thought processes and actions. Our internal brain is at its best when inventing, coming up with solutions, being creative, and making decisions.

Research has suggested that the brain can only hold onto 3 or 4 ideas at once. You can plan that vast family celebration, with food, music, and guest lists, but at the same time, you can easily forget to pick up milk from the store. Our internal brain is well-suited to coming up with ideas but less adept at remembering things.

So, it stands to reason that all of those never-ending tasks that require our attention can clutter up our minds, detracting from our ability to entirely focus on and commit to more involved tasks. They can leave our brain feeling pulled in a thousand directions, harming productivity.

When we have this long list of responsibilities, it’s difficult to get started on any one of them and tick them off. Instead, we become bogged down by the sheer number of tasks, many of which lack definition. First, you have to invest mental energy into organizing and planning them before getting started.

This is where your external brain comes in. An external brain is an external system that you can use to capture, record, detail, and analyze your tasks, freeing up your mental energy so that you can become productive again.

What’s an External Brain System?

An external brain system is one that can take all of those ideas and tasks that we have, and organize them into a way that means they’re ready to be picked up and worked on when needed. As a benefit, we no longer need to devote valuable brain real estate toward remembering them, freeing up mental energy for other tasks.

As such, an external brain system needs to fulfill certain functions that can lift the responsibility off your own overworked brain. So, when you’re looking for an external brain system, what should the software be able to do?

Manage your to-do list

Remember how we talked about the brain’s limitations when it comes to remembering multiple tasks? This phenomenon is backed up by research, which found that we can hold, at most, 3 to 5 meaningful items at any time. Very few working professionals will have the luxury of only having to remember this few items simultaneously. Between emails that require a response, daily responsibilities, meetings, and other actionable items, the number is likely to be far higher.

So, you need a system that’s capable of keeping track of multiple action items. Ideally, you need a system that allows these tasks to be created quickly on the fly so that you aren’t dedicating focus time toward managing your backlog of tasks.

Simplify task creation

Curating your to-do list can take up a lot of time in itself, so your external brain system should make it simple to add new tasks as required. Some software packages allow you to drag and drop tasks directly from your email inbox or the messenger application, creating actionable items without having to duplicate notes.

Streamline your time management

Of course, keeping track of multiple tasks can quickly get out of hand if you aren’t sure when you’re supposed to be working on them. You ideally need a plan that sets out when you’ll work on key tasks, as well as reminders when deadlines are approaching.

The best time management apps support time blocking, which is a process that involves segmenting your day into specific “blocks” of time that you’ll use for focused, uninterrupted work on a specific task. They’ll also be able to notify you when there’s an upcoming action that requires your attention.

What is Time Blocking?

With time blocking, you’re not changing much about your day-to-day activity, but you’ll become more efficient at completing tasks. The principle is simple: you’ll block out time in your calendar for specific tasks, always understanding what needs doing next.

This technique could be particularly useful for you if you’re always juggling multiple priorities and find yourself constantly switching tasks, yet always struggling to complete any of them, or if you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get through your workload.

What are the benefits of time blocking?

It’s natural that you’d want to understand the benefits of time blocking before giving it a try. Here are just a few of the advantages:

  1. Professionals who use time blocking are more likely to have an improved attention span. When your brain is no longer cluttered by items that are yet to be completed, you can instead focus all of your mental energy on the task at hand.
  2. Using time blocking helps you to identify priorities more effectively. By planning your time in advance, you can visualize all of your tasks and prioritize those that matter the most.
  3. With time blocking, you can unlock extra time. Since time blocking makes you more productive and focused on getting through tasks, you’ll free up more time in the day as a result.
  4. Finally, time blocking can lower your stress. We can all feel overwhelmed when we’re trying to remember fifty different things at once, while making sure we don’t miss deadlines. When you time block, you make sure that there’s enough time to complete essential tasks, while recording everything else in a to-do list that won’t be forgotten.

How does time blocking work?

Getting started with time blocking is simple, and you only really need around a day to give it a try. Set aside sometime on a Monday morning to work through the steps below:

  1. Make a list of your key tasks. Think about the responsibilities that you have to complete on any given day, whether they’re recurring activities or one-off endeavors as part of a new project.
  2. Decide which tasks relate closely to one another. See where you can group tasks together naturally. For example, generating reports and checking your email inbox, or user requirements gathering and writing user stories.
  3. Assign a time allocation for each task. Think about how much time you’ll need to get through each of the activities on your list and make a note of the time needed beside each of them.
  4. Think about when you’re most productive. Now that you have your task list, think about the most productive times of day for you. Some people are more active in the evening, while others work best first thing in the morning.
  5. Start planning your week ahead with the above information. Create time blocks within your calendar, bearing in mind the intensity of each task and the times at which you work best:
  • If you’re a morning person, plan work that requires a lot of brainpower and focus for the first hours of the day.
  • If you work better later in the day, start out with simpler tasks, such as checking your email inbox, before working on more intensive tasks in the afternoon.
  • Leave buffer time either side of your tasks so that you have time to decompress or set up for your next task instead of having to immediately jump from one thing to another.

Akiflow: Time Blocking with a Reliable External Brain

Akiflow is an ideal example of software that can be used as an external brain system. Akiflow draws together task management, smart notifications, and a comprehensive calendar, all within a single, clean interface. It can automatically import your existing to-do list and calendar items from existing tools, organizing everything within a universal tool.

The software makes it simple to consolidate tasks from multiple apps, including Slack, Google, and Outlook. In total, Akiflow supports integration with more than 2,000 productivity apps.

You can also organize all of your tasks within the native digital planner, which supports drag-and-drop functionality. Simply drag tasks from your existing email inboxes or messenger applications to create to-do list items within Akiflow.

If you want to see how users are already saving as much as two hours of their time each workday, try Akiflow for free today. You don’t need to provide any credit card details.