When I was about five years old, my dad bought our family a Tandy 1000 personal computer. It came with 128K of memory on board, and one floppy disk drive.
Although we were all overwhelmed with the technology at first, we slowly began to push the computer to do more. We soon bought a space shuttle simulator game that required a lot of memory to run. The Tandy could hardly run the program and the simulation experience was awful.
I clearly remember the day we upgraded the computer from 128K to 640K. Suddenly, I was in the astronaut business.
Our Minds Are Finite Resources
Ahhh, if only we had the ability to upgrade our brains as easily as we can with computers. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though.
Like a lot of us do with computers, we believe we can pick up mental efficiencies if we just multitask our work. Some of us have even convinced ourselves that we’re more productive when we’re handling more things.
Science continues to disprove this. In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Bartlett summaries the research, saying:
Multitasking tends to make everyone worse at everything. It slows us, makes us less accurate, and impairs our working memory.
Get Stuff Out Of Your Head
While research is ongoing on exactly how the biological processes in our brain limit us, one thing is clear:
We all have limits.
When we hit those limits on computers, many of us have learned to close programs to free up memory. Yet, we often fail to do this for ourselves.
It’s a compelling case for a the central component of David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done* system. In this landmark productivity bestseller, he challenges all of us to free up our minds:
Your mind is not for holding ideas, it’s for having ideas. -David Allen
The aim is clear: get stuff out of your head that doesn’t need to be there and free the space for higher-level thinking.
Find A Tool You’ll Use To Collect Ideas
The first step in freeing your mind is to discipline yourself to stop holding every idea in your head. Rather, get it into a collection system.
I know people who use Moleskine or Field Notes notebooks in order to collect their best ideas. For those who prefer digital options, Evernote is probably the most popular digital collection bucket these days and works on virtually every platform and device. Some people prefer a simple text file.
I capture everything in the Drafts app* on my iPhone.
The tool itself is a distant second priority to you actually using it. Whether paper or digital, pick the took you’ll actually grab when good ideas strike.
Systemize Reviews To Free Mental Space
It’s not enough to free up your mind and record ideas. You’ll need to set up systems to ensure you actually do something with the ideas, so you build more confidence in freeing your mind.
Each week, I have a reminder on my task management system to check my notes twice a week and either record them as tasks, list them as future ideas, or discard them. Typically, about a third of my notes go to each of those places.
How do you free up space to generate the best ideas? I welcome your comments and feedback below.