Getting More Out of My Brain

Regular readers will know I love mind maps, and more or less anything that works harder with my information. I use MyInfo as my outliner, I use MindManager to organize my thoughts, but I’ve only ever dabbled with other programs that I feel could do a lot more for me than they do: 3D Topicscape, Axon, NoteStudio, EverNote, TiddlyWiki and PersonalBrain.

All of these are worth a look, if you like experimenting with storing your information differently. Topicscape lets you fly through your data, and it works remarkably well. Axon is a very freeform but powerful idea organizer, NoteStudio and TiddlyWiki are personal wikis — think web-type links but in the comfort of your own home. EverNote is a huge toilet roll of stuff you can save from anywhere.

The last one, PersonalBrain, has always been very seductive, because it looks so darn good. It just feels like it should be something I use a lot. Plus, people I admire like Jerry Michalski use it, and love it. If someone like him uses it, surely I can get something out of it?

But as people smarter than me have said: PersonalBrain seems to be a tool waiting for a purpose. But what? If one treats the brain as a hierarchy, then quickly one gets frustrated. I know a few people use it as a file manager, and that makes sense — easier to jump to other subfolders that are close by, but not in the same folder — but so far I’ve only found one really good use for it: Contacts.

I don’t know a huge number of people but they’re now spread out all over the world and staying in touch with them has become something of a lottery. Sometimes I get to see them when I’m nearby, but more often than not it’s only when I’ve got back home do I realise that I was near where they were, and we didn’t hook up. PersonalBrain works best when nodes, ideas, or whatever it is you’re storing, have more than one connection, either up (Bloke X lives in NY but also works for company Y) or sideways (he used to live in Singapore, and used to work for company Z).

This lets me see the connections between my friends by which group of people in my world they’re connected to, but also lets me see them organised by company, or whatever. It may sound daft but I’m now doing a better job of staying in touch. And even reestablishing contact with folk I haven’t seen for a decade or so. PersonalBrain has to be thanked for that (tip: you can drag names from Outlook into PersonalBrain which speeds up the process; doubleclick on their names in the Brain and they’ll load in Outlook.)

Now I’m trying to find other ways to use the software. The fact that we haven’t found out what needs these programs fulfil may, I surmise, be because we haven’t been thinking hard enough.