Using Your To-Do List as a Second Brain

Using Your To-Do List as a Second Brain: "
Does this sound familiar? You’ve cleared your calendar for a day to spend time with friends and family. No work, just quality time.

But as you try to relax, an endless string of to-dos floods your mind. Soon, you’re no longer at the park with your family. Your body might still be there, but you are lost in thoughts about the email you need to send or the call you need to make.

I call this the must-remember-mind. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this state of consciousness. The must-remember-mind helps us nail deadlines and follow through on important tasks. But it also poses problems, both to our productivity at work and the quality of our life at home.
Here are the two main dysfunctions of the must-remember-mind:
  • It Scatters our Attention – When lost in these mental to-dos, we become less efficient. Rather than devoting sustained attention to our current task, our mental energy is lost in a cycle of worry about what we didn’t do or need to do.

  • It Diminishes our Aliveness – The more we drop into the consciousness of the must-remember-mind, the more we distract ourselves from the experience of the present moment. If you’re walking through the woods and all you can think about is that email you forgot to write, you’re cut off from experiencing what’s here and now.
How do you break out of the must-remember-mind? How can you draw your attention away from endless mental to-dos to the experience of this moment?

The answer is – you need a second brain, a brain dedicated to holding on to all those emails, tasks, and calls you can’t stop thinking about.

Enter the to-do list. It’s a simple technology. But, if used properly, the to-do list works as an extension of consciousness. It allows us to outsource the worried thoughts of the must-remember-mind so that we can enjoy the experience of the present moment.

Here are three ways to maximize the benefits of this second brain:
  1. Don’t go anywhere without a list
    Wherever you go, be sure you have some way of jotting down the thoughts of the must-remember-mind. You could go old school and slip a piece of paper into your pocket. Or you could go high tech and use the “Notes” app on your iPhone (I’m also a big fan of the “Voice Memo” feature).

  2. Write out your to-dos as they arise
    You might not always be able to do this. You might be in the bathroom or swimming in the ocean when your next burning to-do comes to mind. But the sooner you off load your to-dos to your second brain, the sooner you can let go of the scattered thoughts of the must-remember-mind. So the next time a mental to-do arises, make a habit of jotting it down immediately. This 10-second detour can save you hours of worry.

  3. Set aside a time for to-doing
    This final step is crucial. If you simply have a list but no set time to carry out the tasks on it, you’ll worry about when you’re ever going to get these things done. So I recommend blocking out an hour or two or three (whatever you need) each day dedicated to following through on your list. You’ll be more focused during these periods because you won’t waste any mental energy trying to figure out if you’re missing anything. You’ll also find that the list keeps you on task. Rather than getting lost on Facebook, your second brain will remind you of your next task.
If you master the to-do list, you will not only experience gains in productivity. You’ll also experience the present moment more deeply and fully.

When you’re with your child at the park or strolling through your neighborhood, you will no longer need to worry about that email you forgot to send. It’s on the list. Your second brain has you covered.

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