In order to innovate, create, improve yourself and enjoy life to the full, you need to be as free as possible. You need to be as free as possible on all four levels – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Freedom simply means that you have the power to act, speak, or think as you want; and as you’ve probably figured out by now, we are more often slaves to ourselves than to anything or anyone else; at least as long as you don’t do anything that would be so stupid you end up in prison.
On the physical level, flexibility, balance, strength and endurance bring more freedom and options. The better your take care of your body, the freer you are from being a slave to yourself. You can reach higher mountains, dive deeper into the oceans, have sex in more positions, do more sports, and so on.
On the emotional level, cognitive distortions can be the ones keeping you in an emotional prison. Negative thinking very much correlates to negative feelings and negative emotional states. All four levels (body, mind, heart and soul) are connected, and more freedom on one level means more freedom on other levels.
On the spiritual level, freedom means freeing yourself from expectations, attachments and fear. The greater your capacity for love is, the freer you are. You free your spirit when you realize that having a good trip is better than just arriving. You want to have a trip full of joy, happiness and bliss.
On the intellectual level, you need to free your mind. One way of freeing your mind is taking control of it. There are only two options: either you control your mind, or your mind controls you. If it controls you, you’re on autopilot, which often leads to cognitive distortions and other mental errors. The best way to take control over your mind is to practice meditation.
The second way of freeing your mind is getting to know yourself better with reflection. With regular reflection and by analytically thinking about yourself, your environment and your situations in life, you bring things that burden you from the unconscious to the conscious mind. The best way to do regular analytical reflection is to keep journal, and we’ll talk more about that later.
The third way to free your mind is keeping your brain as unburdened as possible with unimportant things. There are several ways for doing that. One is to keep trivial decisions to the minimum. You have a limited daily cognitive ability, and every decision, thought or worry takes some of that ability away. Entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and the deceased Steve Jobs even go so far that they wear pretty much the same thing every day, just to keep more cognitive power for decisions that are more important than choosing clothes. You should automate as many things as possible, from what to wear, what to eat and so on.
Another very useful way is to have your own “digital brain”. With a digital brain organized in the right way, you can free your mind from irrelevant information, you can store things for reference, write down ideas and so on. Not only do you have more cognitive power to allocate for the things that really matter, you are also much more productive and creative; because you don’t lose your ideas, you can find your references really quickly and connect different pieces of information better.
Don’t get me wrong: having a digital brain doesn’t mean that you become lazy; you just don’t burden your brain with information that isn’t important in a certain moment or with an information overload. There is no way you can create if you only consume. Nonetheless, it makes sense to work hard on your intellectual capabilities. Reading, doing mental exercises, making new yet unknown connections, thinking out of the box etc., are all things that increase your intellectual capacity.
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Your digital brain
Your digital brain is nothing more than an electronic system for note-taking, brainstorming and archiving.
The structure of your digital brain should be pretty simple. You should write down or save everything you don’t need in a certain moment but may need someday, save your ideas and, of course, keep everything that helps you to organize your daily life. Below are the things you should store in your digital brain at the least.
Journal, thoughts and reflections
The first and most important thing you should keep in your digital notebook (brain) is your journal, especially if you don’t want to keep any paper and want to have everything digitalized. Keeping a journal could mean two things. The first one is actually keeping a journal, meaning writing down what you’ve experienced throughout the day, where you’ve been, who you’ve met and so on. Maybe someday, you’ll want to show that kind of a journal to your kids.
But an even more important journal type is a journal of your daily thoughts and reflections. It’s about analysing and getting to know yourself, reflecting on your decisions and what’s happening to you and so on. It’s about becoming more aware of your beliefs, values, perspectives, thoughts, mood triggers and so on. Regular reflection is the best way to free yourself from emotional and intellectual burdens as well as to get to smart work, because you become more strategic, proactive and less reactive.
The good thing about keeping a journal is that you can always go back, look at your epiphanies, cognitions and thoughts, and re-reflect on them. It’s how you grow and improve.
Here are some types of documents you should keep in your digital brain:
- Reflection journal – As mentioned, it’s a journal about you, making the unconscious conscious, understanding your motives, desires, frustrations and other psychological traits.
- Emotional accounting – It’s about keeping a table to rationalize your cognitive distortions. You simply draw a three-column table, where the first column is the automatic negative thought (“I never do things right”), the second one is the type of cognitive distortion (overgeneralization) out of the ten different types mentioned before, and the third one is your rational response (“Not true, I do a lot of things right”). Keeping everything in one place helps you see how you’re improving.
- Your life strategy – Your thoughts about your life strategy, from your investment and money strategy to your traveling plans, developing competences and so on.
- Your optimal environment – Keeping thoughts about the people in your life, the situations you face as well as an analysis of your environment, such as your country, macro-economic trends, your office and home.
- Minimums and maximums – It’s about setting limits in your life, the minimums and maximums you should achieve to keep the balance and different areas in life in check (for example, the minimum amount of times you should exercise per week or the maximum amount of time you should work on average each day).
- Desired outcomes – Whatever you do, you should start with an endgame in mind. That’s the list of outcomes you want in life, how you’ll achieve them, what could go wrong and how you’ll adapt and adjust your strategy.
- Personas – It’s a technique that can help you clarify what kind of people you want in your life and the kind of organizations you want to function in.
- Personal improvement strategy – It’s a list of where and how you want to improve yourself and when you’ll do it. It’s not only a list, but a document with an important life strategic value. This is probably the most important list in your life and has a deep reflection benefit.
- Personal SWOT analysis – It’s a good tool for identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and can help you make your personal improvement strategy.
- Traditional journal – It’s also good to keep a regular journal, into which you write about things like what happened to you on a specific day, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen and what you’ve learned. You can just write a few bullet points in your reflection journal.
- “Thankful for” and “proud of” document – The two documents you should definitely have in life is a list of things that you’re really proud of in your life, like your achievements, strong personality traits, good deeds and so on, and a list of things that you’re grateful for.
- Other thoughts and reflections – You can also keep all other types of personal documents and your thoughts, like quotes, positive affirmations, messaging archives, personal e-mail archives, dreams, associations and everything else that strongly impacts your life.
Tasks and lists
The second thing you should keep in your digital brain are various lists. You don’t want to try to remember everything, and you don’t want to torture your brain to recall everything you have to buy in the grocery store or be mad because you’ve forgotten something. If you help yourself with lists in your daily life, you’ll have much more cognitive power at your disposal.
Lists also help with one more thing, if you write them correctly. They help you with not feeling overwhelmed. The right way to do it is to have all kinds of lists that free you from anxiety and a feeling that there’s too much to do. You only keep one list (or board), showing what’s in process (to-do list) for the following week. With an approach like that, you try to focus on one weekly or bi-weekly sprint, and you try to live in the moment more.
Here are some lists you should keep:
- Your vision list – It’s a big list of everything you want to experience in life. It feels good when you look at a list that shows what you’ve already experienced in life and what else you want to live to see. It empowers you and helps you focus on the positive.
- Your “maybe someday” list – There are some things for which you aren’t sure whether you want to experience them in life or not. You can keep a “maybe someday” list to prevent burdening yourself too much with all the things that exist in the world. If one day you decide that you want to experience something from this list, you put it on your vision list, if not, you delete it.
- “Not to do” list and distractions list – You should keep a list of things you know you won’t do or don’t want to do in life. It’ll help you stay focused and say no more easily.
- Being a minimalist list – It’s a simple list of things you don’t need anymore and plan on giving away, selling or dumping. If you don’t do that as you go along, you can keep a list and then do a cleaning every three or six months.
- Reading list and wish list – A good list to keep is a list of books you want to read in life. Make sure that you cross a book off the list every two weeks, or at least one per month. You should also keep a list of things you want to buy and have. But think twice before making purchasing decisions.
- Your shopping lists – Simply a list of things you should buy the next time you visit the grocery store.
- Daily/Weekly To-Do list – You can have a to-do list, but I recommend visualizing your tasks with a Kanban board. If you don’t want to have a physical board in your life, you can keep it electronically. One way to do it is with a software application like Kanbanery. The other ones are notebook applications that also have post-it notes integration.
- Other lists – You should keep all other kinds of lists in your digital brain, for example a weekly home cleaning and maintenance schedule, gift ideas, things not to forget, things to do with your spouse etc.
Business and other ideas
Your digital notebook should also be your brainstorming tool. You can get your business and other ideas (like ideas for blog posts, for example) randomly throughout the day and when you do, you should write them down immediately. We can quickly forget ideas, even if they’re really good. So make sure you write down every idea you get, bad or good. Noticing and identifying your ideas throughout the day will also improve the quality of your ideas in the long run.
The second way is to take time and brainstorm. You should do that regularly, at least on a monthly basis. It’s how you keep your creative muscle strong. Having good ideas is an important part of success in life. The good news is that everyone is creative, you just have to practice enough.
Here are two additional resources:
Mind maps and summaries
As you reflect on yourself, you should also reflect on the things you read, listen or see. For example, after reading a really good book, you should go through your highlights again, making a summary or a mind map of things that fascinated you the most. You’ll get much more out of it and you can go back and refresh your knowledge anytime. I do mind maps in the Mindjet MindManager and then save them in my digital notebook.
You should also keep notes in your digital brain, all kinds of notes. Notes from team and client meetings, classes, phone calls, sales visits, all other types of meetings, the conferences you attend and so on. The good thing is that you can send a note to all other parties involved to confirm everything you’ve agreed on. It’s part of good communication and it helps keep clarity.
What you can also use are templates for different kinds of meetings or activities. For example, you can have a business meeting template. The purpose of a template is to first maximize the value of the meeting, making sure that the subject is clear etc. as well as to prepare and share the minutes faster.
You should also keep all different references and resources in your digital brain. The webpages you like, infographics, blogposts, articles etc. Things you’ve read and want to keep, things that you may need again someday and so on. I call my reference notebook Intelbox and I keep all kinds of useful information and good ideas in it.
Documents and archive
Last but not least, your digital brain should also be your document archive. You want to keep everything in one place, systematically organized and easy to find. It’s good if you can digitalize everything and keep a no-paper policy. I know it’s not always possible, especially when it comes to the government, but you should keep things on paper to the minimum. You should digitalize as much as possible.
Since your archive will become bigger and bigger as you go through life, it’s really important to have things organized from the very beginning; you should also do regular cleaning and organizational updates. Your archive can be the place for storing your personal documents, business documents, bills, medication and medical records, etc.
It’s also good to have different information you only need sometimes in one place, for example the tax ID number, clothing size, different home measurements (window size, quadrature…), manuals, and so on. You can also keep important phone numbers, insurance policy, a “what to pack” list for traveling and so on in your notebook. There are numerous ways of using your digital brain.
Advanced uses of your digital brain
Thanks to technology, applications are becoming more and more powerful. With multiple users, sharing abilities, extensions and synchronization across applications, there are many advanced ways of using your digital brain, either all in one application or with different applications synchronized.
Here are some examples of using your digital brain in an advanced way:
- Tracking your time
- Tracking your finances and investments
- Keeping a digital rolodex (scanning business cards and keeping contacts in one place)
- Your weekly menu and different recipes
- Tracking your calories
- Your fitness and sports journal with a plan and tracking progress
- Writing blog posts or your own book etc.
I use the following applications to keep my digital brain:
- Evernote – Evernote is an extremely powerful and popular notebook tool. It gives you everything you need to organize your digital brain. You can encrypt sensitive data, it’s synchronized across all devices and keeps a copy in the cloud, you have an extensive app market with a post-it extension, for example, and so on. There are also many templates available.
You can easily enter data, for example capture websites, e-mail documents, synchronize applications, and so on. You can directly scan documents into Evernote, you can make audio notes, save pictures, easily share notes you write down and so on. There really is basically everything you need to keep your digital brain structured and organized. I strongly recommend it.
- Dropbox – I keep almost everything in Evernote, except files. For my files, I use Dropbox, where I have a directory Intelbox and in it, all the different files I may need as a resource or reference one day. From free eBooks to presentations, papers and other materials. By using Dropbox, you can easily access and view files from all the devices you have. Sharing is also very easy.
- Google Inbox – Another important part of my digital brain is my e-mail client. I keep an archive of my e-mails in my Gmail account. I try to keep it as clean as possible and I try to write a minimum amount of e-mail. I use the Inbox application, which really keeps things with e-mail productive and simple.
- Other applications – I also use some other applications as part of my digital brain, for example Pocket, Mindjet Mindmanager, WordPress and Twitter. And I must not forget IFTTT, for keeping things as automated as possible. There are many other specialized apps on the market, but I recommend you to keep things as centralized as possible. Evernote is a good place to start.
If you’re interested in organizing your digital brain with Evernote, here are some recommendations for further reading: How to organize Evernote for maximum efficiency.