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Craft your External Brain with 3 Effective Tools.


If our mind had a mind, it would remind us!” – David Allen, Getting Things Done®

Your mind is strange and wonderful! It is more complex than a powerful super-computer yet in some ways it is quite vulnerable.

It can plan out a 50 person anniversary party in great detail – right down to the sumptuous finger foods, but forgets to buy the eggs the wife wanted an hour ago. Ouch!

Thus it’s great for having ideas, but doesn’t excel at holding them. It is not very good at ‘remembering’ things. Research has proved that at a time human mind can hold only 3 to 4 ideas simultaneously. Give it any more and the automatic erasing starts.

And this leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to organizing and categorizing things.

Because of these shortcomings, we often end up stressed and overwhelmed! Our attention is completely hogged by the commitments we take on. Sometimes very small and mundane commitments

And once we says ‘yes’ to a particular engagement, it becomes a permanent fixture on our mind. It doesn’t budge, it doesn’t move till is it completed to satisfaction.

But our brain is not a place for such chaos and bedlam. It must be calm and focused to come up with new concepts and inspiration.

This is why we desperately need an external brain.

Think of an external brain as a reliable system that can hold the ideas after we have them so that we are reminded about the right things at the right time, when it is feasible to execute them.


When you employ the GTD® methodology you will start entrusting information about your to-dos to your external brain, which could be a notepad, laptop or Smart phone. Today an external collection system is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.  Here are some resources & tools to help you setup your external system.

Moleskine or any other notebook 

If you are starting out GTD, plain pen and paper can be one way to go.  Here’s a great post that shows how you can turn any notebook into your external brain using simple post-it flags:

2Do –

This is the ultimate GTD app for iphone and Mac users. It has a fantastic desktop version that syncs with its mobile partner seamlessly!

This is our prefered application.  A relatively new kid on the iphone-gtd block, it has not received much internet love yet.  Look out for a blog post on how Arif & Ali use 2Do soon.


Everyone’s favorite app, Evernote is the perfect external brain for those who do not consider themselves to be tech savvy. This is an excellent post that takes you through the process of prepping Evernote to accept GTD’s power.  The best thing about evernote is the fact that it is present on a myriad platforms – Windows, Android, ios, mac, you name it, evernote is ever present.

Other popular tools are Outlook (Windows based), Nozbe (available for all platforms), Toodle-Do (Web based and syncs with 2Do) and Omnifocus (mac and iphone based).

Bonus Tool: Milanote

A recent tool that I’ve been experimenting with is Milanote. I’ve been using it to create marketing campaigns. In the beginning, there’s a whole lot of brainstorming involved, and I need a place to park my ideas, inspiration from the web, drafts etc. I found Milanote to be a cool tool to give me the freedom to be messy first, and then quickly organize when I’m ready. I find it helpful to share boards with team members as read-only documents, to handover parts of the project.

The above are just some examples of convenient systems that can act as your external brain. There are gazillions out there so don’t overwhelm yourself.

To get started, ask ‘Which tool am I most likely to have with me?’  Is it a pen and paper set-up or your trusty phone?  And then from there on select the option that best suits your workflow.

Your Take on GTD as an External Brain:

Think for a moment about how your life would improve if you had all of your processing power at your disposal to fire great ideas and change your world and not just juggle mundane information? Have you ever lost an opportunity or felt frustration simply because your mind is too cluttered?

Big changes are driven by an inner impetus to make a difference. Spare a moment move on to our Action Items.

Action Items:

  • Choose a suitable medium and start the process of setting up your external brain. Right now, it can be just a legal pad.
  • Populate it with all the items that have your attention. The best way to go about this is to perform your first Mind Sweep.

PS – Don’t know what a Mind Sweep is? Sign up for our 5 part autoresponder series on and learn the basics of David Allen’s life changing methodology.

Want to be heard? Need GTD enthusiasts to bandy ideas with? Join our Facebook page. Next week, we talk about the secret sauce to reaching all your career and personal goals.

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