Fundamentals of Less Doing is a series of articles detailing how we think about productivity from a conceptual level. If you are new to Less Doing, the Fundamentals series is a great place to start.
One of the most important things you can do to have a life of Less Doing is to have a system that allows you to find anything at any time. If you want to remember something, your head is not a very good place to keep it. The fundamental problem with trying to remember everything is that in doing so, you run out of space in your head to actually think about the task at hand.
Think of it this way, what do you do when you have to remember a phone number, but you have nothing nearby to write it down? If you are anything like me, you are going to keep chanting it silently in your head until you can find something to write it down with or you convince yourself that you will not forget it. It is stressful, and half the time I think I will remember it, I still forget it.
If it’s not knowledge that is going to inform the way you regularly think, do you really need it in your head?
The advantage of storing things in your head though is that it is immediately accessible. Your external brain needs to be the same. This means that you need to develop an external brain where everything is filed properly so you can find it quickly. You also need to be able to access it at virtually all times.
Thankfully, things have changed quite a bit in the past five years. Most of us carry cell phones that make it easy to write down and record everything. Most of us though still have problems remembering where they put something. If you write a note on your cell phone, but you cannot access it on your computer, then it is not that useful. You need to a system of tools and organization that makes it easy to find things regardless of where you are or what device you are using.
Future articles will get into the nitty gritty, but my external brain consists stack is:
- Evernote – if I might need to reference it someday, it goes here
- Google Docs – if I need to share it with someone, it goes here
- iThoughtsHD – If you need to organize your thoughts, mindmap it
- Dropbox – if it simply will not fit in any of the other tools, it goes here
- Trello – If it’s a big project with lot’s of moving parts, create your checklists here
99% of everything that I might need to remember someday is saved in these tools. Most importantly, all of these tools can be accessed anytime, anywhere on my own computer, my iPhone, my iPad or anything with an internet connection. Plus, it is all backed up, so if I lose one or all of my devices, I can still get to my data. My external brain is probably more secure than my own brain. Ask my friends, no one is going to be surprised if I end up with a nasty head injury.
This “stack” may not be right for everyone, but there are plenty of tools out there that you should be able to find something you are comfortable with.
We’re Still Learning
I often find myself in a rush and needing to write something down and not really thinking about where it should go. This typically ends up in the “inbox” of Evernote. This stacks up and I end up with a lot of items in my inbox that sit for days or weeks. I have learned to minimize the impact of this problem by forcing myself to file time sensitive items. If it is not time sensitive, then I know I will process it eventually.
I have also noticed that writing things on paper does not work. A few months ago, I was still writing things to remember on paper. I always planned to get to it later which almost never happened. In the end, I decided to eliminate paper from my life (a topic for another day). When I do find something on paper, I take a picture of it, add it to Evernote and tag it. Evernote will make the text on it searchable. (I do this for everything except business cards. CardSnap processes business cards and adds the contact info to my address book.)
If You Only Walk Away with One Thing
If you ever think you might have to one day recall something, save it in a place that is backed up and accessible from anywhere. Make sure to provide enough context through what you write or by using a tag system to make it easy to find quickly in the future.