The Productive Benefits of Organising Your Ideas Outside Your Head

The genius of writing ideas and tasks down.

Radachynskyi Serhii / Shutterstock
Radachynskyi Serhii / Shutterstock

Human memory is complex and unreliable.

Our ability to remember is complicated.

We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures.

As our knowledge about the world increases, so too does its complexity and our ability to handle them.

And while the world around us keeps evolving, we’re still stuck with an ancient brain that hasn’t changed much.

HowStuffWorks explains how the memory works and why it’s terrible at retaining information:

To properly encode a memory, you must first be paying attention. Since you cannot pay attention to everything all the time, most of what you encounter every day is simply filtered out, and only a few stimuli pass into your conscious awareness… What we do know is that how you pay attention to information may be the most important factor in how much of it you actually remember.”

The honest truth is, you can’t pay attention to everything long enough to remember them when you really them to make a decision.

We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail.

None of us has a perfect memory.

Science is still figuring out new things about our brains and memory.

The brain influences everything we choose to do but if you heavily rely on it for everything, it will fail you when you least expect it.

Our brains have evolved to focus on only a few things at a time. Keeping almost everything in it and relying on it to remember when you need something is bound to fail every now and then.

How many times have you had a brilliant idea when you take a break, but completely forget what it was when you get to your desk?

Chances are this happens fairly often.

In fact, most things you intend to do in both the short and long term are in danger of being forgotten if you don’t deliberately capture them.

The good news is, you don’t have to keep everything in your head.

You can outsource your memory to get things done and sorted better.

This means dumping all your thoughts and ideas on paper, a device, or your favourite app.

The key message is this: Organise your tasks and ideas outside your head.

Write things down!

You will conserve the mental energy expended in worrying that you might forget something and in trying not to forget it.

Writing down your tasks frees up your brain power for better productivity.

Don’t rely on your memory.

Help your brain to be as effective as possible.

What you write, you (are more likely to) achieve

When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.

Michael Leboeuf

Don’t allow things to float around inside your head.

They don’t stay for long.

Get into the habit of using a journal to jot down important things, ideas, tasks and thoughts you want to remember in the future.

And don’t just write down short-term actionable ones, you can also write down long-term projects, like your personal growth goals and what you want to do to achieve them.

These could be something that can help you pursue your dreams like the actions you have to take to invest for your future or upgrade your skills.

As simple as it sounds, the process can make a big difference to your overburdened brain.

You can free up valuable space and get yourself thinking clearly at work if you make it a habit.

You can do this at the beginning of your workweek and each day, instead of trying to keep track of what still needs to be done.

You don’t have to carry around a pen and paper.

You can jot down ideas on a notebook app on your mobile device.

But science tells us that physically writing things down makes it easier to remember though.

The bottom line is this; use whatever makes that works best for you.

And sometimes, instead of writing things down, especially if you are at your desk, you can take care of it right away (as long as it doesn’t distract your workflow). Use the touch-once principle if it will take less than two minutes to sort it.

Create a checklist for any task you do regularly

The word “checklist” probably reminds you of daily/weekly to-do lists.

But there is more to a checklist than a simple daily to-do list.

They offer the freedom to focus on your best work and enhance your judgement at the same time.

Surgeons, pilots, and emergency workers use checklists. They can’t afford to rely on their memories to take care of human lives.

Checklists have consistently proven to be a better option for them.

They can defend anyone (both experienced and least experienced) against failure in many more tasks.

You can comfortably rely on a checklist to complete almost any task. Good checklists are precise, efficient, easy to use, and practical.

“They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything — a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps — the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical,” writes Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

Checklists act as a check against our ego and remind us to make sure the simple, but absolutely important stuff gets done.

When using checklists, focus only on the essential stuff that’s frequently overlooked or skipped.

If your list has more than ten items on it, you are making it complicated. The shorter the better. Where necessary, break it into two.

I maintain checklists for my work and personal life.

Put it on your calendar

I use checklists for almost every new project and Google Calendar to remind me of important tasks for the day.

Scheduling your time can be a boring chore but it yields exciting results. A calendar allows you to stay on top of your appointments and important social dates.

The simplest way to create a working calendar that drives your productivity is to start with your recurring tasks and activities for both your professional and personal life.

List them separately and put them on your calendar to create a personal schedule. Establish clear boundaries for each activity but allow enough time between activities.

Unless you work yourself, it pays to share your calendar with your team to improve communication and efficiency.

Closing thoughts

Memory works in strange ways. But you don’t need an exceptional memory to function well in our modern world.

Get it out of your head so you remember better and free up your mind to concentrate on what is really important. Use simple tools, and productivity hacks to run your life smoothly.

Think on paper to improve your personal efficiency.

Originally published on Medium.

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