A Second Brain

I love being part of a team. Things get even more interesting to me when I get to work with multiple teams. It’s like visiting friends who live abroad. You become more observant of their environments, of their values, of their habits and also about the things you might judge as fundamentally different that what you would normally do.

I also get great results when I work alone. I recently ran a little experiment. I told my team I’m going to go on a workation—a one-week trip to the sea side where I would organize my days around my deep work sessions. I had a list of themes and two books I wanted to deep dive into.

It was fairly ambitious of me; I spent half of my time working, and half of it walking on the beach, sleeping, resting. I worked on less than half of the things on my list, read only half of one book. However, that time there brought me clarity and confidence in what I wanted us to continue, start or stop doing. I discovered inefficiencies, I got more context on a new project, I created new processes. It got me into knowing what was previously unknown to me. It gave me time to think.

There was one conclusion that particularly stood out to me as a result of my time there that I kept on going back to. My co-founder and I are equally responsible for the succes or failure of our business. We need to be in full alignment with what our company does or doesn’t do and why. However, our roles are what stops us from becoming interchangeable. I have my areas of responsibilities, whereas he has his own—and there are decisions that derive from that. The two of us attending the exact same meetings became inefficient. There were days when we had 7 meetings a day or more, how much of that are you able to relay to your partner if they’re not there? When would you be able to talk about all of the things you’ve heard and decide on them?

Switching from working in a team, to working with multiple teams, to then working with your business partner and also working alone requires range. There are tons of variables in these contexts and this ultimately influences my behaviour as well. I’m also sometimes more drawn to one setup or another, depending on the nature of the job to be done. The ability to use whichever to achieve the best results is invaluable, really.

But there’s one thing that this way of working doesn’t solve: information management. You can’t rely fully on people to do that, no matter how capable and resilient they are. As our organization grew bigger, I realized we need systems, processes, and really an archive of information to keep track of things and act as a source of truth.

That’s how I started playing with the idea of using a centralized system. I’m not talking about a project management app. I needed more than that. First, I played with some templates. Then I started creating my own. Soon enough I found out some systems needed to communicate with one another—you update tasks in one database, you want them to sync across all your databases. I was amazed at how flexible it was. Here’s a look at some of the purposes I found in the first few weeks of using the app:

  • tasks with multiple views (calendar, owner, project)
  • tasks reminders (basic so far, I know)
  • the ability to add custom fields to your tasks and projects in general
  • CRMs with granular access
  • repositories
  • collaborative docs for research, brainstorming on new concepts, etc
  • an internal blog
  • moodboards
  • editorial calendars for our blogs
  • daily logs
  • centralized meeting notes, and so on.

I liked answering “you can find it in the app” to so many of the questions our people starting asking me. It meant it was there, waiting for them. I had already anticipated they would need it and they would feel more support to start a new task then if they had to set up a meeting beforehand. I work at making it increasingly true for most of the situations that arise in any given day. That’s how you learn it’s important to have access to a good searching/ filtering system and a common taxonomy for items.

Fast forward a few weeks, more templates and processes started coming in. It helped me delegate more, check in less, becoming less dependent on the everyday things. People love freedom and I’m happy to facilitate more and more of that.

We forget less. Our teams become more efficient. We have status updates without having to ask for them. This probably works 60% of the time, and that’s an average score. Not everyone is a fan of using the app and I’m OK with that. The point is that 60% is actually 60% better than what we previously had which was long meetings, scattered emails, tons of pings on Slack and iMessages. Oh, the iMessages.

My last thought here is that it took me a while to realize that my role was not about what or how much I was doing; it was about my ability to understand, take action, and build our way towards the outcome that was best for the company. And I needed a second brain to process that. That brain that remembers when it needs to, that knows where to find things, that communicates for you, that encourages healthy habits and ultimately isn’t dependent on me or anyone else in our team. A brain that worries less about staying on top of things. A brain where you can download your thoughts whenever you need to, and make use of them at any point in time. To me, that second brain is an app that allows me to make room for what matters most to me.