Habit of the month February: Capture all

By johannatime On February 1, 2015 Under The Habit of the Month

Using your brain as a reminder what to do is a bad idea. This ‘organic’ type of work organisation will compromise your productivity and it will leave you feeling overwhelmed. The habit of the month February therefore, is about capturing everything and anything that has your attention into a trusted system, so there is nothing on your mind, and you’ll forget nothing either.

You may be familiar with that feeling: there was something you must not forget, you remember it was important but you cannot remember what it was about. Or worse, you forgot about it altogether. I used to change my watch to my other wrist, or my ring to another finger, to remind me that there was something to remember. You may have your techniques, too.

The type of things you might try to remember:

  • Promises and commitments you made at the water cooler
  • Groceries you need to buy
  • E-mails that need to be followed up on
  • Phone calls you need to return
  • Birthday cards you need to send
  • Meeting notes
  • Items you borrowed or lent
  • Items that need repair or replacement
  • Great ideas

You get the idea. Your day is full of them. They cause you headaches.

Keeping reminders on your mind should be avoided at all times!

First of all: you forget things anyway, and they may explode right in your face at rather inappropriate times. When everything you could have properly prepared for is nicely organised, you have your resources available for the true surprises, and you have the capacity to deal with them calmly.

Second, but even more important: By trying to remind yourself, you are constantly trying to multitask; Whilst focussing your attention on a task, you also try to remember this commitment or whatever it is you’re trying not to forget. The habit of the month January is all about that, so have another read if you like.

Why bother changing habits?

Your mind is a terrible reminder. Instead, it is designed for creative and analytic thinking, so make sure that’s what your brain can do all day, and don’t leave task managing to your brain. Some people think that if something is truly important, something or someone will remind them anyway. Maybe. But I recommend you don’t count on that. You don’t want to share your responsibility to keep your commitments with others anyway. The price you’ll pay for following the strategy of having yourself reminded by others will be a permanent reactive working mode and a constant feeling of overwhelm and stress.

What you can do instead: capture and collect everything and anything that has your attention into a trusted ‘in-basket’

That means from now on, you will get every reminder out of your mind and into your ‘in-basket’ the moment it occurs to you. Any ‘in-basket’ will do as long as it is outside your brain. Capture everything, even the smallest thoughts, without judgement, and collect them into ‘in’. Get as many ‘in-baskets’ as you need, but as little as you can get by with. And make sure to process the contents of your ‘in-baskets’ regularly, preferably daily. Processing here means following up on them by making a decicion about your next step, even if that would be ‘delete’ or ‘don’t commit’.

Suggestions for capturing and collecting tools:

  • Your e-mail inbox collects automatically, so count that one in
  • And so does your mail box
  • A paper note pad and pen work fine under most conditions, so have one in your bag, in your bathroom, in your car, at your bedside
  • Use a voice recorder when you’re driving
  • There are many digital tools out there, like Evernote, or just use the notes app on your smartphone
  • Put up a white board in your shower or kitchen and have the markers ready at all times
  • Send yourself e-mails if you have to

In case adopting new habits is overwhelming in itself for you, I suggest you read my blog post about changing your behaviour, however, this one is ok to be done cold turkey style. And please let me know how you go in the comments below:

Johanna Jansen

  • […] will probably be tasks on your list, or if you don’t have a list, on your mind, that have an excellent excuse not to get done: you need a good part of a day, or a week(!) to do […]

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