Monday, September 10, 2018

Thought Tags, Features in TheBrain

What is a "Thought Tag"?

When working with TheBrain by TheBrain Technologies LP one of the most challenging features for me to understand was how to properly leverage "Thought Tags." The first question you might ask is "Justin, what is a Thought Tag?".

Thought Tag is an attribute that can be added to one or more Thoughts in TheBrain software to help identify commonality between Thoughts.  A Thought can have more than one Thought Tag, whereas a Thought can only have one Thought Type.

Above you can see how the thought "David Allen" has three Thought Tags attached to it.  They are a pencil, checkmark of approval, and a U.S. Flag.  In this case, they allow me to know that David Allen is an author (the pencil), one of my influencers (the checkmark of approval), and from the U.S. (the U.S. Flag).

Jump down to the Example Thought Tag section below for more examples of Thought Tags.

How do you assign a Thought Tag?

I am aware of four ways to assign Thought Tags:

  1. Thought Properties Dialog
  2. Dragging a link
  3. Toolbar Menu Selection
  4. Right-click menu

Thought Properties Dialog

When the Thought Properties dialog is open a "Tags" button is available that will allow the addition or removal of any thought tag in the brain.

This method is recommended if you have a lot of Thought tags to modify for an old thought, or if you are adding a new thought that needs a lot of Thought Tags. Don't forget if you are using the "Semicolon Method" to add multiple thoughts you can assign one or more Thought Tags in that dialog.

Dragging a link

By either selecting the thought tag from the Thought Tag menu or by searching for the Thought Tag with the search field you can make a tag the selected thought.  Once it is the active Thought, you can drag from the "Child Connector" and type in the name of a Thought you want to assign the said tag to. 

If the thought you want to assign is one of your pinned thoughts you can just click and drag from the child connector to the pinned thought

This process only allows the addition of one Thought Tag to a Thought in a single operation.

Toolbar Menu Selection

In the "Thought" menu there is an entry labeled "Set Tags."  Choosing "Set Tags" allows the addition or removal of a Thought Tag, one at a time.

This process only allows the addition of one Thought Tag to a Thought in a single operation.

Right Click Menu

By right clicking on any Thought, the popup menu has an entry labeled "Set Tags."  Choosing "Set Tags" allows the addition or removal of a Thought Tag, one at a time. This is the same menu that you can find in the "Thought" menu on the toolbar

This process only allows the addition of one Thought Tag to a Thought in a single operation.

Keyboard Shortcuts

To quickly activate the Thought Tag menu to start searching for a Thought Tag press:
  • ⌘-G in MacOS
  • Ctrl-G in Windows

Example Thought Tags

I have been working with Thought Tags for a while now and have come up with my own system that you are free to borrow, extend, or ignore.  I brake my thought tags into five major types:

  1. Actions and Status
  2. Ranking
  3. Personal Attributes & Skills
  4. Company Attributes & Properties
  5. Items and Products
Before I get to the examples, please keep in mind that Thought Tags sort alpha-numerically so you may want to choose names that allow things to logically group together

Action and Status

These statuses allow me to quickly add information to the database and know I can get back to it later for refinement or cleanup.  These Thought Tags act almost as tasks so that I can "close my loops" a la GDT and I will pick up all the outstanding items during my weekly review
  • Cleanup, Data Dump
  • Cleanup, Mobile Entry
  • Decision
  • Idea - Infancy
  • Idea - Needs refinement
  • Todo


Finding the correct image for these can really help
  • 1 Star
  • 2 Star
  • 3 Star
  • 4 Star
  • 5 Star

Personal Attributes & Skills

I use these Thought Tags on people that I add to my database.  These are intended to help me look up people or remember something about them
  • Hobbies - list the ones you care about
  • Professions
  • Personal Influencers (This is a stand-alone tag)
  • Speaks, $X
  • Zodiac Sign (If you, and/or the person in question, are into that kind of thing)

Company Attributes & Properties

As a businessman, I need to remember a lot of information and data about companies I do work with.  As an IT person, the things I most often need to remember is what enterprise software or carrier services they are using.  As such I create Thought Tags for the following:
  • Uses $X Product
  • Uses $X Company (Usually a service company, else I would just use the appropriate product tag)
  • Uses $X Service

Items and Products Attributes & Properties

Just as I need to know what companies are using, I also need to know what features products may have.  This includes software or physical products.
  • Feature $X
  • Made of material $X

Thought Tag Attributes

To make Thought Tags more useful, you can modify the following for a thought:
  • Image 
    • This makes the thought much more useful if the appropriate stock image, clipart, or external image is used
  • Abbreviation
  • Font color
  • Background color
  • Notes & Attachments
    • This means you can further clarify what a Thought Tag means to a given database.

Additional Information

For additional information here are some links from TheBrain Technologies:

Monday, September 3, 2018

Tips to Capture more often with TheBrain, Procedures in TheBrain 9

Use It or Lose It

Like many practices, tools, or caches of knowledge ones skill with TheBrain software will increase or decrease with deliberate use. [For more information on "Deliberate Practice" see Talent is Overrated by Geoffery Colvin. A book that will be reviewed at a later time].  But sometimes, just a few tips or tricks that allow you to use a practice, tool, or knowledge base more often is needed to help give you that push.  This article is intended to help with that very subject.

For those short on time the list is as follows:
  • Use the mobile apps
  • Use tags to mark entries that need to be cleaned up later
  • Create a "Random & Unsorted" thought to quickly add thoughts to

Use the Mobile Apps

With apps for iOS and Android users of TheBrain 9 Pro Service,  Pro Combo, or TeamBrain can use the mobile apps to sync back to TheBrain Cloud Services an thus, back to any desktop applications you might be using.

This means thoughts and ideas can be added or extended from anywhere.  With the latest versions of the mobile apps supporting automated sync, the use of the mobile apps becomes more and more advisable.

I myself have used apps on my phone and tablet in every mode of transportation, while walking, even between meetings when an idea strikes me.


Well thought out Thought Tags can help to ensure that you are not just throwing information into a never-ending pit.  Sure, if you just record thoughts and never clean them up, you might be able to search out the small morsel of information you were looking for, but that is not the purpose of TheBrain software.  There will be no relevant links to help you draw a bigger picture. You will not have had a second exposure to the information to strengthen your unaided knowledge and understanding.  Getting in the habit of using tags, like these, will minimize the number of underdeveloped thoughts in your Brain.

I use the following three "quick tags" to help me enter data fast without worrying that I am throwing data down a hole:
  • _Cleanup - Data Dump
  • _Cleanup - Mobile Entry
  • _ToDo
It should be noted that all of them start with an underscore "_" to ensure that they are sorted to the top.  This makes them fast and easy to select when using from a phone or tablet as mentioned in the prior section.  The ease of use should be simple to see in the image below:

_Cleanup - Data Dump

Sometimes you have access to a bunch of data on a Thought, and you just need to paste it and run.  Rather than risking coming across this information weeks or months later using this tag can give you an opportunity to go back in your downtime and clean the data up.  I do this as part of my weekly review as inspired by the GTD process.

_Cleanup - Mobile Entry

As of this article, the mobile apps are limited in many of the things they can do.  Links cannot be labeled or typed. Attachments can be challenging to accomplish.  Horizontal Rules cannot be added.  Though these features may make their way to the mobile versions, it will most likely still be faster to do much of this from a desktop application for some time.  As such, a "_Cleanup - Mobile Entry" gives a clear indication of the need and the reason for the required cleanup.


I use this one in all forms of TheBrain UI's - phone, tablet, and desktop.  This allows me to know that I need to pull more data, link a wiki page, get input from a customer or colleague. Having this tag enables me to "close a loop", GTD again, and focus on my thought flow rather than getting everything perfect the first time.

I pare all of the tags above with software engineering style notes:

//* ToDo: note link all thoughts underlined above *//

This allows me to quickly find them in the Notes section of a Thought.

Random & Unsorted

I often come by random pieces of information that I just want to save, am not sure where it should be initially attached to, or can't find the parent thought or thoughts I would most like to connect the information to.  This is where the "Random & Unsorted" thought and Thought Pin comes into play.

Create a thought called "Random & Unsorted."  I have created mine directly off of TheBrain's "Home Thought."  Then you can pin the thought by right clicking on "Random & Unsorted" and select "Create Pin" from the popup menu.

Once created and pined you know have a quick natural place to "catch" all of the little things that will help build depth into your brain.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Habits - Entry 3 - Scaling back when needed


If you have found my articles interesting enough You may have tried to look at the other items I have written for this Blog and quickly found out that there are some significant gaps between articles.

How can this be? You might ask - isn't this the guy that writes about habits and task list and other things that should keep me on track churning out copy every week? And you would be correct to ask that question.

Hopefully, this will be a good segue into one of the most significant habit lessons I have learned:

How to scale back when life adds pressure to your time and energy resources

The answer is not complicated to figure out Evaluate, Prioritize, Execute.  But it is essential to go through the process.


The "Getting Things Done" crowd will be familiar with the weekly review.  This is where I often do my evaluation.  As I go through this process I usually try to sort my habits into groups:

  • Professional habits
  • Health habits
  • Mental habits
  • Social habits

and classify each habit within the group as

  • Positive -Foundation
  • Positive - Working
  • Negative - Foundation
  • Negative - Working
With this philosophy, I can sort the current habits (good and bad) into one of 16 groups.

It is critical that you are honest with your self as you build this list.  It may be easier if you use a habit app like Todoist, so you already know what habits you are tracking.  It may also be useful to listen to others to determine what habits you have that you don't even know about.

The major groups -Professional, Health, Mental, and Social - are not to hard to make out, but there are some clarifications I would like to put out there.  First, I use all four groups because they seem to balance out well.  One works well with the other three.  If you don't work on your Health, you won't have the energy for Social, Profesional, or Mental habits.  If you are not improving your Metal capabilities, you will be left behind in Social groups, passed up in your Professional life, and may execute your Helth strategies all wrong.  I could go on to all four, but I think you get the picture.

As for the sub-categories, they are just the realization that we have positive and negative habits, and we have habits that support all that we do (Foundation), and practices that we are working on (Working).  Some may call Foundation habits "Keystone habits".  These are habits that either allow other habits to be more beneficial or enable other habits to be formed.  For example, the Profesional habit of "getting up at 5:00 AM" provides the time for the Health habits of "working out" or "meditating."  Due to this even if I have to stop working out or meditating I might keep getting up at 5:00 AM for the many other benefits.


Though this process is going to be based on your own needs, it should be as simple as ranking your habits in most to least significant. Then, based on your time and energy budget, determining which practices you can keep, which you will do less frequently, and which you will 'let go' for the time being.

Due to an increase in opportunities at work at the end of 2017 I had to go deep into this process.  I found it easiest to drop most of the habits that were in a "working" group, both positive and negative. I had to be very careful with what I chose to keep.  Too much and I would not be able to get the work done to take advantage of the opportunities.  Too little and I would cause myself to burn out, unable to sustain the work pace and quality needs.

It was clear many of the things I would keep.  From Health - Diet, and Excercise.  From Social - My weekly ballroom dance get-together. This allowed me to keep both my wife and my friends happy.  Mental - I halved my reading load but increased the amount of fiction I was reading.  This was enough to keep me from feeling like I had abandoned my mind, by not stopping my reading, while giving me additional distractions to allow my mind to reset, by reading more fiction than I normally would.  As the goal was to take advantage of a Professional opportunity I dropped the least here - really only my working habit of improving my handwriting and working on adding "Sketchnoting" skills. I type all day so these are a vanity habits.


By far the easiest part to say had hardest to do.  You have to allow the things you said you will not work on this week to go by the wayside, you can work on them when your energy allows.  You have to stay disciplined in ensuring you perform all of the habits you said you would keep.

But it is not all discipline and sacrifice.  Hopefully, you will have marked your weekly review as a Profesional Postive Foundation Habit and will have chosen to keep it.  This means that in only a few days you can Evaluate and Prioritize again. Giving you the ability to adjust each week as demands change.


As I the challenges I accepted are coming to a close I am taking the habits I put on hold, such as writing in this blog, and adding them back into my weekly lists.  By ensuring that I kept the most important habits, I have come to the end of this opportunity with better health, a good mental feel, little to no damage to my social standing, and the professional respect of my company and coworkers.