Get it out of your head

The average human being gets around 6,200 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of potential ideas each waking cycle. While the human brain is quite good at coming up with fresh thoughts and new ideas, it is not very good at remembering them. To illustrate this, let me give you an example. You are in the middle of an animated conversation with a colleague at lunch. Halfway through making a point, another colleague interrupts. The new arrival asks you for some random bit of information which you dutifully supply. By the time you turn to your gossip partner, you have already forgotten the point you were making and with it the chance to share an amusing anecdote. Does it sound familiar?

A lightbulb
What was I thinking again?

The best way to retain your ideas is to get them out of your head as soon as possible. Instead of relying on the internal system (your brain) to remember every thing you need, you should start creating an external system. Get as much as you can out of your head and into a system you can review later.

  • Have an errand to run by the end of the day, add it to your to-do list or set it up such that you have a cue by the end of the day. For example, if you have a car and would like to buy a crate of eggs at the end of the day, you could place an empty crate on the front passenger seat when you go to work in the morning. In the evening, as you leave for work, seeing the crate will remind you to stop by the store and pick up more eggs.
  • Getting too many ideas for the book you’d like to write, get a plain sheet of paper and write them all down. Don’t worry about them being coherent. You can always refine ideas later. Use whatever works. It can be a bubble chart, line diagrams, spider networks or a list. Once you have the ideas out of your head, you can review them at your convenience and pick the best.
  • Have trouble remembering a friend’s birthday (I’m guilty of this one)? Find the date and add a reminder on your Calendar. If you want to pick them up a gift or arrange a party for them, set a reminder a week before the event.

Someone once told me the faintest pencil is better than the strongest memory. Writing things down will serve you a lot of headache later on. Just ask the man who forgot his wife’s birthday.

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