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”Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Is your memory letting you down? And what about your memory?! Is it letting you down? Whether it’s a movie recommendation from a friend, a business idea that came to you in the middle of the night or even the meaning of life passed on to you by a guru in an ashram, most people react to interesting information the same way: “I must remember this.” Sadly, just as dreams evaporate from your mind within minutes after you wake up, those must-remember items tend to rapidly disappear into volumes of forgotten lore.
Thankfully, the fix for this is so simple and easy to implement, you will kick yourself for not doing so earlier. David Allen, the man behind the productivity system Getting Things Done, says that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is using your brain as a “storage device” rather than focusing it on creativity and problem-solving. Instead of trying to memorize your to-dos, appointments, shopping lists etc, simply outsource this tedious work to that 2000 year-old invention, a piece of paper. Just write everything down. This seems like a no-brainer, but the key is to extend this habit to all ideas, insights and advice you get, so that you never forget anything again.
From now on, make a point of storing everything on paper and using your brain only to process this knowledge.
Here are 5 simple steps that will get you started:
- The very first thing you’ll need is something to take notes with. This could either be a simple paper notebook, small enough to carry with you wherever you are, or more likely your smart phone’s note-taking feature.
- Since we often get the best ideas when our minds are distracted, you need to make sure you NEVER leave home without your notebook. Whether you’re commuting, partying or working out, be sure to keep your notebook with you. Deep sea diving and showering might be the only exceptions to this rule.
- Whenever there’s something you want to remember, be it a tip for a good read, a funky band, an awesome recipe, the solution to the Palestinian conflict, a cure for cancer or even a funny YouTube clip, you should make a habit of jotting it down the moment it occurs to you. No need to go all Shakespeare with the note, just put down enough information to remember the idea later.
- Of course, the goal isn’t to end up with hundreds of notebooks filled margin-to-margin like the killer in Seven, so you also need to put a little bit of effort into organising the notes. We recommend you create a simple Information Management Systen (IMS) in an Excel file where each topic gets a separate sheet, e.g. “books“, “business ideas“, etc.
- Any notes involving a task you can complete in less than 5 minutes should be acted upon as soon as you get the chance. Don’t even bother filing them, just get them out of the way. An example would be the note “Get a notepad, create an IMS file”. This can be done within 5 minutes.
Be sure to think back to this moment when you are adding the finishing touches to your Nobel-prize acceptance speech, and your competing rocket scientists are still trying to remember whether they need more milk from the store.