Tools for Thinking | 2312

A friend asked me the other day “What tools do you use for thinking?”
I replied… “My Brain????”.
Apparently this was the wrong answer.

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Tools for Thinking

A friend asked me the other day “What tools do you use for thinking?”
I replied… “My Brain????”.

Apparently this was the wrong answer. What he meant was ‘do I use any software tools for structuring my thoughts and ideas’. Do I use Obsidian, or mind map in Figma etc.

When I said no he was surprised. 

Winding the clock back to primary school, I remember being taught about mind maps in my remedial special needs class in the mid 90’s. Even back then, I thought it was nice and neat to have your thoughts laid out on the page like that. But I’ve never seen the point in drawing them.

I’ve worked with people who think in mind maps. It’s amazing to see people draw a mind map in real-time on a whiteboard with a group of people in a workshop. You write the name of the thing you want to think about in the centre of the page, draw lines and ideating. But I personally don’t see the point.

Because of my Aphantasia I’m not a visual thinker. Surely only people who have visual thoughts gain value from drawing a map or diagram of a subject they have in their mind. But since I don’t have any visual thoughts at all – I don’t see the point. 

I think spatially instead.

To stretch a metaphor to absurdity, Ideas are like self contained hotel rooms hanging in pitch-black non Euclidean space. You open one door and in front of you are many other doors floating in a void. Not connected, just nearby to one another. You can’t draw a map of it. 

So what tools do I use for thinking? Well, the main one is writing. I absorb ideas, they rattle around for a bit then something emerges fully formed when I sit down to write.

For example: ‘What tools do I use for thinking’ has evidently been rolling around in my brain. I didn’t have a subject for this weeks show until I started free writing. After 400 words of free association the first line of this episode emerged.  “A friend asked the other day “What tools do you use for thinking?” and I’ve been thinking from there ever since. 

The online productivity nerd community call using tools for thinking “building a second brain.” 

Whilst I don’t *think* with any second brain tools, I do *remember* things with them.

In order of importance, the tools I use are:

My to do list app, my Bullet Journal, my Pinboard, and my Notion. 

My diary is its own thing and needs a dedicated episode.

Second Brain

Let’s take each part of my second brain in turn.


The book Getting Things Done changed my life. 

Following GTD principles Todoist separates tasks into categories. I call mine things like Hold the Fort for stuff around the house and Transmissions for replying to emails. 

The app  has 4 levels of priority for tasks. 1 through 4 and I try to work though them in order, clearing the list every day. Level 4 tasks that don’t get done are upped to a level 3 for the next day and so on.

I also have a lot of recurring tasks in the app. Some are daily tasks like taking my Crohn’s medication, others recur weekly or monthly.

Since discovering todolists I have lived my life with an empty mind:

My saying goes ‘If it’s not written down it doesn’t exist.’ Which works flawlessly until you forget to write something down. 

Bullet Journal

I use my bullet journal is a place for thoughts and notes when I’m on the go. But I also write a weekly todolist, separate from the tasks in my app. This is an aspirational list for creative projects. My Bujo items are often carried over from week to week. But if I do manage to tick something off I know it’s been a good week.


Pinboard, for those unfamiliar, is the extremely late noughties style web bookmarking service. I migrated there after was ruined by Yahoo. I have 15 years of good internet saved in my Pinboard going back to 2008. I checked and I have just shy of 7000 bookmarks. If pressed I’d say Pinboard is the closest I come to having a tool for thinking as well as remembering. I’ll be working on something and think ‘I saw something about this once’ and I’ll search my Pinboard.

By the way, my Pinboard feed is public. If you fancy an old school link blogging experience from me that has averaged 1.2 items a day for 15 years RSS LINK IS HERE.


Lastly, I use Notion. It’s such a great piece of software. It’s good for individuals, it’s good for teams and it’s great for collaboration. Notion is are where creative projects and ideas from my bullet journal go to rest. For example: A few years ago I had an idea for an hex tiled resource management board game based on the principles of 3D open farming and sea otters called Kelping Hands. I have comprehensive notes, research and draft rules all in my Notion. At some point I’ll come back to it. Another, is years ago, I did a deep dive into the Victorian ‘social language of flowers’. I was speaking with a ceramicist  friend recently about it, I sent it to her and now we are collaborating on a project together. Nice

Anyways, this is all to say I really don’t see the point of mind maps.


The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the episode in the edit.

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One response to “Tools for Thinking | 2312”

  1. […] Going out for a 20min walk and coming home with 2k+ words of notes in a format that only needs a light edit to be useable is a real game changer. I put all this sort of stuff in my monthly Google Doc scratch pads. AND OF COURSE I use my bullet journal for day to day written notes, and todoist for running my life. […]

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