The inestimable Merlin Mann runs a series of posts on 43 Folders called Inbox Zero, intended to impart “the skills, tools, and attitude needed to empty your email inbox”and then keep it that way.” It’s been a great series so far (my own inbox is nearly empty at this minute, for instance).
In a similar vein, I now bring you Memory Zero, a series of articles to help you prepare for the fact that, despite its billions of interconnected neurons, the brain is a fickle gray beast.
Example: It’s a rainy day. You catch a bus and rest your wet umbrella on the floor, trusting your brain”there are more synapses in the brain than stars in the galaxy!”to remind you to grab it when it’s time to get off.
Unfortunately, a block before your stop, you’re busy thinking about this really cool CSS hack you’re going to try when you get home, and then, hey, why are all the people getting off, this place looks familiar, oh no, it’s my stop, RUN!
Time to buy a new umbrella.
Contexts for things, not just tasksOne of David Allen’s smartest innovation in Getting Things Done is context. For knowledge workers who frequently juggle a dozen projects with hundreds of tasks, an easy, fast, and logical way to slice up those tasks into manageable chunks is incredibly valuable
Sure, you can also separate tasks by project or due date, but neither method is very helpful when it’s time to actually work. Why remind myself that my highest priority task is to fix the closet door when I’m stuck at the office? Don’t I feel guilty enough as it is?
Context is great for tasks. But it can also be a useful way to organize and prepare your physical tools. Some New York law firms and other large corporations give each employee (or, sometimes, each high-level employee) a “go bag” containing a first aid kit, bottled water, a flashlight, and so on, in case of an emergency. Should the worst happen, basic survival tools are at hand and ready to go. In the chaos of a fire or other disaster, no one will have the time or focus to remember and collect even the most basic necessities.
But as we learned in the bus example above, it doesn’t take a rain of frogs to cause the brain to drop everything and go into fight-or-flight mode. A phone call from the boss, suddenly realizing you’re late for an appointment, someone showing up at your office unexpectedly”we’re constantly being interrupted and called to action and, more often than not, we race off to the next thing without the appropriate tools.
Make a List, and Check it TwiceI’ve been surprisingly (to me) successful nipping this behavior in the bud by sitting down and figuring out my mobile contexts. For instance, I’m often suddenly called away from my desk for a quick, impromptu meeting. Unfortunately, those impromptu meetings sometimes drag on for an hour or more, and suddenly I have to race off to my next meeting without going back to my desk.
So I bought myself a portfolio with a notepad, pen loop, and space for documents. In the morning, I load it up with the materials I’ll need for every meeting and other mobile tasks around the office. When I leave my desk, the portfolio comes with me, so I’m always prepared no matter where I end up.
Make a list of your mobile contexts. Then, create a checklist of your essential tools. Things like pens and index cards can be prepared in advance in each bag or portfolio. The checklist reminds you what you need to move around before you go.
For instance, “writing blog entries at a cafe” might call for:
- laptop or alphasmart neo (my preference)
- power cable
- cell phone
- car and apartment keys
Starbucks[Insert name of independent coffee shop here] card
- gum, kleenex