When we talked about the big brain dump list, we talked about how our brains cannot hold all the things we would like them to hold. How if we are keeping everything in our heads, there is a big chance that some of the things will fall out.
And, when it comes down to it, do you want to use your brain for keeping track of things? Or do you want to use it for thinking?
I often thought, when I had small children, that some of the reason for the ‘baby brain’ – the clouded mind, the inability to think – was that I was keeping track of everything using only my brain. I had trouble thinking through a complicated idea, but if someone asked me where the socks with the pink stripe were, or what had happened to my son’s sunhat, or whether there was milk in the fridge, I could answer those questions straight away.
But I don’t want to use my brain’s powers for keeping track of the dirty laundry and remembering that we need to buy milk and that Moz is on the roster at church on Sunday. That is not a good use of my brain. I want to use my brain to write novels and blog posts, to edit complicated scientific papers, and to daydream.
So what to do?
It’s quite simple, really. Use tools to keep track of things and use my brain for thinking.
But the trick is to use the proper tools. There’s no use writing the grocery list on the back of an envelope, and the roster on the church newsletter. Then your brain has to keep track of where the envelope and the church newsletter is, and also it spends time wondering whether that particular scrap of paper has been thrown out by mistake when it has a VERY IMPORTANT thing written in the corner that you MUST NOT forget.
And tying a knot in your handkerchief, no matter how bad your sinuses are, is also not very effective.
So the tools we use must be effective, efficient, and limited.
Decide what you are going to use and use those tools at all times. Don’t get caught in the trap of using too many tools and then having to look between them all the time to find the thing. Choose some tools and go with them.
Here’s how I am doing it right now.
Groceries are written on a pad on the fridge. When I use something up, I write it on the pad. I have also trained the members of my household to do this, and they do it most of the time. If they don’t, I don’t take any responsibility for it. If it’s not written on the grocery pad, then they will need to go get it themselves.
My general list of things to do is on the Actions app (from Moleskine) on my phone. So no matter where I am, if I start to think, ‘I should put the rubbish out’ or ‘go to the bank’ or ‘fold the washing’ I put that on my phone. If it’s important and time limited I can add an alarm to remind me. But because I know that the jobs are there on the phone, I usually just look at what needs to be done. The app I use can set certain days to do certain tasks and can also make some tasks repeating tasks. It’s all very handy.
I write out my work to-do list on my paper diary on my work desk. That helps me to limit the list of things I’m trying to do in a work day. And it helps me to plan the day too.
But those two lists are not my brain dump list, of course. For the brain dump I use Evernote. And I also use Evernote for any thoughts about projects – like book ideas, blog post ideas, or even larger household projects. And Evernote is great because you can put websites in it too. I also keep my ‘books to read’ list in Evernote. The only issue with Evernote is that it can become a ‘write-only’ piece of software. You can put heaps in it that you never look at again. So be wary of only adding information that you will want to look at later.
Another thing I keep in Evernote is a packing list. When we go anywhere to stay the night I can easily pack for the occasion because everything I usually pack is written in the list. So I feel confident that I’m not going to forget my chargers or my decaf coffee, they are on my list and they will be remembered.
I have a small notebook that I keep by my bed. I use that for those pesky thoughts that come just as you get comfortable. ‘You must remember to ring your mother tomorrow’ for example. I write it down in the notebook and then transfer it to my phone the next day. (No, my phone does not live next to my bed and I hope it never will.)
I also have a small notebook in my handbag, but I tend to use my phone instead these days rather than pen and paper.
And finally, I use google calendar for keeping track of my appointments. I love that I can add things on my phone or on my computer. And if I want Moz to know about them I can put them in the calendar we share so that we both know. It’s kept on the cloud so I’m not going to lose the dates even if my phone or computer dies.
Those are the things I use to remember things, to keep track of things, and to store my thoughts so that my brain is clearer and I can use it for thinking.
So remember, keep it simple and limit the number of brain buckets, but make sure you write it down.