The Brain vs. The List
When you are creating your “ideal productivity system” you need to keep one thing in mind. Your productivity system needs to serve you and your goals.
”A good productivity system should help you do the things that matter” – Shawn Blanc
Your system should empower you to be focused and get your most important tasks, goals, and projects done. There are a lot of ways to do this. Shawn uses the Hybrid-Productivity method (along with many of us here at Blanc Media HQ). We are going to dive into two of the core components of this method known as The Brain and The List.
A Hybrid-Productivity Method means that you use both digital and analog tools: apps and notebooks. You use digital apps, like a digital Calendar, task list manager, and writing app, while also using analog tools, like a good old-fashioned notebook.
Let’s dive into the specifics of The Brain and The List.
The Brain refers to the digital tools. It is where you store your task list and calendar. We live in a digital world and you can’t always lug around your notebook and pull it out every time you have an idea or remember a task that you need to jot down. Your digital task list becomes the place where your task list and calendar live.
The Brain is your central source of truth. Shawn talks about this in his course All The Things (which may or may not be getting a pretty sweet update soon). It’s everything involved in your digital world. Task list, projects, email…
Currently, Shawn’s “Brain” tools consist of Things (task-list manager), Notion (team project manager), and Fantastical (Calendar). These three apps are The Brain. Shawn dumps all the important tasks, ideas, and meetings into those apps and refers to them as needed. He throws tasks into Things that he needs to complete either today or three weeks from now. The perfect set-it-and-forget-it app.
This is where your task list lives, but it’s not where you spend most of your time. It’s like a holding place for everything you know you need to do until you’re ready to actually do the work. That’s when The List comes into play.
Where The Brain is the central source of truth, The List is the boss. The List encompasses the analog tools. For Shawn, and a few others of us, we use plain old notebooks (I’m personally a fan of Golden Coil). This is where you actually make space to get the work done.
Shawn spends most of his time in his notebook. He looks at his Brain apps and then plans what needs to get done. His Brain tells him what he has planned for the upcoming week / day and what tasks need to get done. Then, in the The List (his notebook) is where he actually plans and does the work.
He time-blocks his schedule, picks his most important projects for the week, decides his top three most important tasks for the day, and does the work. Remember — the goal is to set up a productivity system that helps you do the things that matter. When you plan and prioritize your daily tasks, you are spending your time doing what’s most important instead of just floundering around wondering what you should be doing.
Before I started working at Blanc Media, I came across Shawn’s All The Things course. I had already heard the idea of planning your day and tasks but had always resisted it. “I don’t want to lock myself into a schedule,” “I don’t want to waste my time planning when I could actually be doing the work.” You’ve probably thought these things too. When I went through the course, my mindset totally changed.
When I plan my daily tasks, I get the most important things done. I waste less time and am more productive. I actually feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day.
How The Brain and The List work together
The Brain (the digital tools) and The List (analog tools) can work on their own, but they work best in conjunction with one another.
Your digital task manager and calendar help “collect” all the things you need to do, both today and for the future. Your analog notebook helps you sit down, take a deep breath, and think through what’s most important for this week and for today.
You could create a digital “List,” but what’s the fun in that? There’s something special about picking out a fun notebook, finding the perfect pen, and slowly filling out the pages with your tasks, ideas, and schedule. The blank pages are a fresh start and a great place for brainstorming.
Shawn has accumulated over 15 of his favorite Baron Fig notebooks with his ideas. In his words, “Quality emerges out of quantity.” The more you work at this system, the more you get out of it. As I’ve integrated this system into my own life, sitting down at the beginning of my week with my planner and thinking through my week and day gives me a sense of calm because I know what I need to focus on. I can just hop into Notion and Fantastical and look at what needs to be done and schedule what’s most important — and then actually do the work.
There’s something beautiful about using analog tools in a digital world. And of course, we are all super nerds over here at The Sweet Setup, so we also love using our favorite apps. Find what works for you. Figure out where your Brain and central source of truth lives and where your List will be so you can create a system that empowers you to do the things that matter most.
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