Notion is the glue that holds my ADHD-self together.

I never used to be so fanatical about specific apps. I was more of a “whatever gets the job done” kind of gal.

But over the past year, as I’ve learned to work /with/ my brain rather than try to force it into boxes I thought /should/ work, I’ve gotten attached to specific tools that really help me thrive.

One of them, Amazing Marvin, was the catalyst for learning about my brain and trying to work with it. Hands down, it’s the most ADHD-friendly task manager I’ve ever seen. If you’re curious, I wrote about my love for Amazing Marvin here.

But there’s another very important piece to a true personal productivity system. Honestly, a task manager is a very small piece of that puzzle.

I feel like it’s really important for me to stop and define what I mean when I say “personal productivity system.”

It sounds like I mean “let’s get stuff done and be as productive as possible ALL. THE. TIME.” And that is how I used to look at it. My brain never really slows down or shuts off. (And thanks to a recent ADHD diagnosis, I now know why.)

What I really mean is a system that you can rely on to live your best life. Under my definition, productivity encompasses rest, relaxation, enjoyment, hobbies, adventure, curiosity — everything that makes you feel like you are living your life the way you want to live it.

Unfortunately, many of us enter adulthood thinking that we shouldn’t need to rely on any systems. That we should just magically “adult” with the help of nothing more than a basic to-do list and a calendar.

And then, when we need realize that’s not working, we beat ourselves up for failing to be a normal, operational “adult.” We resent systems we need (like that phone reminder to brush our teeth) and even refuse to use them, lest those around us think we’re completely unfit to live on our own or have families and careers.

So I’m here today to share something very important with you:

You deserve to use, rely on, and live by whatever systems make you feel whole and functional.

Got that? Okay, good.

So let’s discuss a huge problem with our current systems. We’ve hodge-dodged them together as any piece became a necessity, and we’ve typically resentment their use, so we go with the quickest, prettiest way to do a thing.

That means we have a bajillion over-complicated apps, plus scraps of paper, and 15 planners that didn’t work.

When our systems are fractured, our focus is fractured.

When we’ve built our systems up piecemeal, they are likely doing more harm than good.

You see, the pieces of our lives don’t exist in a vacuum. Managing them in separate systems only makes them harder.

Taking time to curate my systems into a single platform helped me learn to make connections between areas of my life that I’d never seen before, which smoothed my life out considerably.

The Elements of a Functional Personal Productivity System

Our lives revolve around information, and in the long run, there are three things we do with every tiny piece of information that enters our brain:

  • We gather it.
  • We organize it.
  • We wield it.

And we do this with the simplest information, like “I like the taste of bananas.” We do it on such a subconscious level that we don’t even recognize we’re doing it.

We recognize the taste and feeling of enjoyment, and then our brain files it away for later, connecting it with the scent and visual recognition of the piece of fruit. Then later, when we’re standing it front of the freezer case at Target, we wield that information by reaching in and grabbing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

Our brains are pretty fantastic at automating this process for simple pieces of information that trigger a strong emotional response (love, joy, fear, disgust). It also helps if there are repetitive sensory pieces to rely on (a smell, a touch, a taste, a visual or auditory cue).

But what about the rest of the information that we encounter on a daily basis that is more complicated, less tangible, or not obviously related to one another?

Some people have an easy time with these things, but I’d say they’re a rarity. Think Sheldon Cooper, from Big Bang Theory. Some brains are simply wired for remembering more and easily making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

The vast majority of us, though, need a little help. And some of us, well, we need more than a little help.

That’s where personal productivity systems come in. And when we’re using a million different apps and random scraps of paper, we’re still relying on our brain to remember where it all is and connect the dots.

The Reliable External Brain

Once I realized all of this, and accepted that I /deserved/ to be able to rely on whatever systems I needed, I began creating what I now refer to as my Reliable External Brain.

It’s a single system that supplements my not-so-reliable internal brain when it comes to managing all of the information that I’m flooded with each day.

I use Notion to house my Reliable External Brain because it’s ridiculously flexible, and as my needs change, it can flex and change with me.

It serves as a single place to gather information that I don’t trust my internal brain to keep track of. Whether it’s a link, a file, a random note, an image, just about anything, it can go straight into my Inbox page in Notion. I don’t have to be picky about the format or worry about it going in the right place.

Once information is gathered, it’s easy for me to go back and organize at (semi-) regular intervals. Everything in my life has a home within Notion, and as a new area appears in my life, it’s easy to add a home for it. Again, the flexibility of format is a lifesaver.

But the real magic happens when it’s time to wield that information. Information gathered and organized, never to be used is useless. And this is where nearly all of my past systems have fallen flat.

To properly wield the information we’ve gathered, we have to be able to find it again make connections between other pieces of information.

A quote I highlighted in an ebook a year ago does me no good sitting in my Kindle highlights. At this point, I probably won’t remember I read the book, let alone highlighted something, or remember to even look at my Kindle highlights. But in my Life Notes section of Notion, I can easily locate it when it’s time for me to sit down and write a post on a related topic.

Gathering information in the same place you’ll eventually use it, and organizing it in a way that’s easily searchable allows you to make those connections effortlessly.

The type of information you gather, the level of detail you organize it with, and how you set yourself up to use it will be specific to you and your life.

The relief you’ll feel when you don’t have to wonder which app something’s in or whether or not your best idea is buried in a coffee-stained notebook somewhere, well, that’s pretty much guaranteed.

If a Reliable External Brain sounds like something you need in your life, but you’re not sure where to start, I invite you to join me for my next live Blueprint session. I’ll be sharing how I used Notion to create my Reliable External Brain and I’ll be sharing all of my templates to help you get started without reinventing the wheel. Click here to learn more.

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