Outsourcing your memory part I

As we all know it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of our priorities. How often does this happen: You’re working on an important document when an incoming email pops up. What do you do? Like most people, you’ll probably instantly forget about the high-priority document and answer the email.

Today we are bombarded with new information, from tweets to emails to text messages. When this new information arrives, we have no way of knowing if it is important until we look at it: If your computer goes “ping” to signify a new email, you won’t know whether it’s important or just some spam, until you look at it. This means that we are constantly distracted, and are always struggling to focus on important tasks for long enough to finish them.

What’s more, this constant stream of new information and new tasks means that the quantity of work done is increasingly used as a way of measuring productivity: its a problem of rating quantity before quality.

But the quantity of tasks done is not a good productivity measurement to focus on. Though sending lots of emails and attending lots of meetings may make you feel busy and productive, it, in fact, says nothing about the quality of your work. A far better measurement for your productivity would be to look at how much progress has been made on those predefined important goals on a regular basis.

This focus on quantity can also cause us to get so bogged down in day-to-day tasks that we lose track of our larger goals:

Imagine your dream is to become a writer, but you’re always so distracted at your day job that you need to work evenings and weekends to make up for your low productivity during the day. Sound familiar? If so you owe it to yourself to get organised, at work and at home, to be able to focus better and have the time to work toward your goals.

To reach your full potential, you need to be creative and well organised. Are you a dreamer or a doer? There are two things required to achieve your potential: perspective –  the ability to see the big picture – and control – the ability to organise and manage yourself in the context of that big picture. Most people can only manage one of these aspects.

There are those with control, but not much perspective, the doers. Imagination and creativity are not their strong suits, so they prefer to classify and organise existing ideas than come up with new ones.

Then there are those who lack control but are rich in perspective, the dreamers. These people have lots of ideas, but they never get very far with them, because they are always getting distracted by the next big idea.

Clearly the best position is to have a balance of both control and perspective. Whether you are a dreamer or a doer you can attain this optimal situation by being very organised with your tasks and your goals. This will leave you the freedom and confidence to be creative.

But in practice how can you actually take control over all your obligations and plans?

By outsourcing your memory! Strictly speaking, it’s not really how we think of traditional outsourcing, you are not paying someone to remember things for you, in its most basic form all you need to do is start writing down all your ideas and tasks.

In fact, all of our to-dos and intentions are in danger of being forgotten unless they are captured permanently somehow. And the only way to capture all of them permanently is by outsourcing your memory.

This means putting all your thoughts and ideas onto paper. Get into the habit of using journals where you record every idea, task and thought that you have. Don’t worry about bad ideas or everything coming out as a load of nonsense, the aim is to put everything on paper. Don’t rely on software, do this on paper. Keep a couple of journals around your home and office so you can quickly jot down ideas as they occur.

Whenever you’re holding a meeting, be sure to put up a whiteboard where you can scribble down notes and ideas that arise and then take pictures of them afterward so nothing is lost.

As you’re capturing ideas and tasks, be sure you not only write down the immediately actionable ones, but also the longer-term things, like your life goals.

These could be projects like learning to play the piano or studying a new language. Also, every time you think of something that could help you pursue these dreams – say, hiring a piano teacher – write it down as well so you’re more likely to act on it.

Organise your ideas and then define simple, actionable tasks to pursue them. Now that you know the importance of writing down all the ideas and tasks that cross your mind, you will end up with a very, very long list of notes. What next?

In part two of this article we’ll look at the best way to organise your notes so they become actionable tasks that you can do either immediately, at some point in the future or assign to someone else and how these tasks can be grouped into steps to help you achieve long term projects and goals.

Read on HiddenWires

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