Second Brain Of A Working Parent

9/11/2015 |

Productivity Tips Think Productive Hayley WattsOver the summer I delivered a Public Workshop to an eager group, almost all were highly enthusiastic despite the small room, the heat, and the fact that it was a Friday afternoon. Right at the end of the session, as people were packing up their things and heading off for the weekend a delegate said: ‘I’ve got a great productivity tip for you’. This was from someone who had made loads of good contributions already. He was well liked, and had shared some great insights. We all wanted to know what he wanted to add.

You want to know what he said, right? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment. But be warned, it’s not an easy option. Still up for it?

‘Have kids. Then you’ll realise how much time you used to have to get stuff done!’ This was met with a moment of silence. This is what we call drastic. It could have been one of Graham Allcott’s 2013 extreme productivity experiments, but I think not. It got a few laughs. As a non-parent, it’s a tad annoying to suggest that you have more time than others. I remember the feeling. But now as a parent I can see what he’s getting at.

So, I asked around. I asked some friends and colleagues about their experiences as a working parent. The overriding thing that people say makes it hard is not being able to give something more time.

In some cases not even a few more minutes as you have to get that train to pick up from the childminder/ nursery etc. Staying later is no longer an option. And at Think Productive that’s what we coach anyway: that just throwing more time at something isn’t the answer (and in case you are wondering, that’s because the work never ends). But there are exceptions and this option is no longer open to many working parents.

A great to-do lis becomes like a second brain (1)

So how can a second brain help the working parent? Is it any different to non-working parents and people who don’t have any childcare to think about? (Although I am sure my parents would argue I still need looking after!)

Firstly for those of you not in the know, what is a second brain? Well, it’s a system to record everything that you need to get done. It’s more sophisticated than a list, and you can search your tasks by due date, projects that they relate to, or what people and resources you need to have to hand to complete them (referred to as context). If you don’t have one, I would highly recommend getting one.

Using a second brain frees up your mind to think about things rather than spending your time remembering what you should have done, or planning what you will do.

As a parent, using a second brain helps me to enjoy the time I spend with my son because I’m not constantly thinking about all of the other things my mind tells me I could or should be doing.

It also means when I am working I can get right to it. I’m not distracted by remembering things I haven’t done yet. I can get some flow and crack on with what I need to do, confident in the knowledge that this is the thing that I should be giving my focus and attention to.

It makes me better at my work, but more importantly, gives me a sense of calm, in my roles as mum and in my paid work.

Yes, there are times that I have to drop what I’m doing to scoot off and get to nursery in time for pick up. I recently bought a scooter to keep up with my 2 year old, and he’s still faster, but that’s another story!

But I can then give him my undivided attention, which I think gives us both a better end to the day. Those things that I have to stop doing are never the things that needed to be done already, or the things that will cause a problem. And that’s thanks to my second brain.

So, what am I getting at? What’s the point? Well, there are two I suppose.

The first is that using a second brain, using it often, and interacting with it daily can make the juggling act of life easier, less stressful and to help you really be present in the moment with whatever you are doing.

And secondly, while it may seem that everyone else out there has it sussed, all the parents I’ve spoken to feel the pressure to get more done, and having to stop is a challenge for almost all of us. It’s normal. And there are tools out there to make it feel a bit easier.

This post was written by one of our London-based Productivity Ninjas, Hayley Watts. For more advice on how to find zen-like calm as a working parent and to find out when her next Public Workshop is, get in touch with her on twitter @NinjaWatts. 

about_usFind out more about how you can improve your Personal Productivity by reading the posts below.

How Being A Comedy Improviser Helps Me At Work

5 Essential Apps For A Zen-Like Calm Lifestyle

Why We Meditate For 10 Minutes A Day


  1. Jennifer McClellan

    Interesting article, but I’m still not sure what a “second brain” is.

    The article suggests that I should get one, and it sounds great. One of the challenges I face is trying to remember on a Tuesday morning what I’d achieved on Friday afternoon and continuing with that work without spending 30 minutes revising my previous work. Or trying to remember whether I should actually be continuing that work or was there something else that needed doing today. But I’ve never heard of the term “second brain”. Where can I get more information?

    • Michael

      Hi Jennifer,
      The Second Brain referred to in this article relates to you having a todo list that you can reply on without having to think much about what you need to do and what is the next thing to do.

      Todo lists can be in the form of paper or digital using a specific app on your phone or tablet. Good Examples, Wunderlist, Todoist, or Trello.

      Hope this helps!


      • Michael

        Rely on… not reply on :-)


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