I continue to be fascinated by the insights into our brains and its mysteries that are being revealed by new research and technology breakthroughs. I’ve recently been reading “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin. It’s filled with intriguing information about how our brains work and how we can change our habits to maximize its capabilities and use them to the fullest.
Empty The Junk Drawer
One of the key insights is about the importance of offloading information out of our brains, essentially removing the mental clutter that turns our brains into the biological equivalent of the ubiquitous kitchen junk drawer. Our brains will try to keep track of everything we think is important unless it is assured that it has been properly stored or scheduled. Trying to keep track of too many things makes it difficult for us to concentrate or to release the brain into its most creative “daydreaming” state.
We’ve understood this need for a very long time. It is what drove us to develop written language in the first place – having too much to remember. Creating a workable personal system for dealing with mental clutter is critical for both performing at your best and maximizing your creativity – not to mention protecting your sanity.
When Lightening Strikes – Grab It!
Most highly creative people (and high-performers of all kinds) have a system for capturing their ideas as they occur. They understand that they may not get a second chance. I‘m willing to bet that you have had a moment of insight that was as clear as day, only to sadly realize that it had vanished forever when you tried to remember it an hour later. Those kinds of epiphanies have a very short shelf-life and must be captured immediately, or they may be lost for good.
There are many different approaches for netting those passing thoughts and I think I’ve tried most of them – back pocket notebooks, day planners, miniature tape recorders, voice-mails, cocktail napkins, etc. – with varying results. But the future is here, and we now have a whole range of new options.
With all of the new technology available to us, I was a bit taken aback by Mr. Levitin’s recommendation for how to best capture those fleeting ideas, inspirations, tasks, and tidbits of information that need to be remembered. He suggests carrying a stack of 3×5 index cards and a pen everywhere to capture the ideas – one per card – and then sort through them, order them, and annotate them every day. Not to be unkind, but in this day and age, he might as well have suggested using a portable typewriter (for those of you wondering what that is, check Wikipedia).
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I love putting pen to paper. There is nothing quite like it. It killed me to give up my Franklin Day Planner for my Palm Pilot. Thirty years ago, I would have been blogging about the many benefits of the index card system (if blogs had existed). But when it comes to capturing the moment, whether a flash of brilliance, or remembering to buy bananas, your garden-variety smartphone is unsurpassed.
The Holy Grail
The palette of available tools– voice/audio recorder, photos, videos, text, drawing, and musical instruments – allows you to capture your ideas within their native medium. In addition, tools for task management, prioritizing, and sharing (such as Evernote, Dropbox and iCloud), allow you to manage, store, annotate, tag and access all of those ideas and information everywhere on any device. It is a dream come true for anyone who wants to capture those moments and ideas that should not be lost.
It takes experimentation and a fair amount of trial and error to fine-tune your system, but it is well worth the trouble. The ability of these tools to take the burden off the brain to remember all of this information is liberating. It reduces stress, improves your ability to focus and create, and does an incredible job of doing what mankind has been trying to do since we first started drawing on our cave walls – keep track of our ideas, inspiration and information somewhere where it won’t get lost – like those damn car keys!