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Your second brain

When you have ADHD, getting stuff done can be really challenging. And so much productivity advice is written for and by neurotypical people. Frankly, it just doesn’t work for us.

Today, I wanted to talk about one of the most powerful tools in my toolkit, the second brain. Let’s dig in!

I thought I was going to get fired

It was my first “real job” after college. A lot of information was getting thrown at me.

And, in class ADHD fashion, I kept forgetting to do things.

I’d get assigned a handful of tasks, and I’d remember a few of them but forget that the rest even exited.

It happened enough that I was pretty sure I was going to get fired.

So I started Googling, “how to get things done.” And the resources that kept showing up over and over again were all about David Allen’s best selling book, Getting Things Done (or GTD as its often called).

Friends, this book is not for people with ADHD. It’s a rigid, overly complex, fragile system that will suck you in with its novelty at first, and then leave a trail of broken promises when it gets too boring and too complex to maintain over time.

But… there is one trick from GTD that’s been a game changer for me, nearly 20 years after I first read about it.

The Ubiquitous Capture Device (UCD)

In GTD, you’re supposed to offload everything that pops into your brain into a Ubiquitous Capture Device, or UCD.

What is a UCD? It’s a notebook. It’s a fucking notebook.

David Allen calls it a UCD because you’re supposed to capture everything that needs doing or “processing” in some way in it so that you don’t forget it later.

Literally any little thing that you want to remember later goes in it.

  • An idea for a friend’s birthday gift
  • That task you were just assigned by your boss
  • The food you’re craving now that you might want for dinner
  • A follow-up call you need to make in a few weeks

Write. It. All. Down.

This concept has really taken off in the neurodivergent space (folks with ADHD and ASD) as a way to deal with information overload. Only we call it a Second Brain, which sounds far less pretentious and more accurately describes its function.


The second step of using a UCD or Second Brain is to periodically process the stuff in it.

GTD has this whole system of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly reviews. In my opinion, that just doesn’t work for folks with ADHD.

Instead, I’ve built a habit of looking at my Second Brain each morning, and flagging a handful of things that I want to accomplish that day.

Every now and then (but not on any sort of set schedule), I go through and remove stuff that’s not important any more or that I no longer need to do. I might also reorder or rearrange some stuff.

Paper or Digital?

When GTD came out, the system was entirely paper-based.

And paper has some benefits! When you write stuff down, it tends to stick better in your brain. Ironically, the act of writing it down for when you forget it makes you less likely to forget it in the first place!

For a while, I would use a small notebook like Field Notes as my Second Brain.

But for me personally, I tend to forget to bring paper notebooks with me. Or I can’t find my pen. So I capture my thoughts on another piece of paper, or not at all. It just doesn’t work for me.

Digital has many advantages.

  1. It’s always with you.
  2. It’s available on any device.
  3. It’s searchable.
  4. You can easily cross-reference information.

The best system is the one that works for me, so if paper works better for your brain, awesome! But for me, digital wins hands-down. It also makes the processing step easier.

Over the next few days, I’ll talk more about digital second brain tools and how you might use them.