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How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

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How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

An adult has an average of 50,000 thoughts every day. Now try to recall 100 of those thoughts from earlier today. Pretty hard, right?

It’s normal to forget most of them as our brains have to filter out unnecessary information so that we don’t go insane. [1] The problem is that we forget a lot of great ideas along the way.

Great ideas often come when a person is unprepared

Most of the time great ideas come when your brain is in “diffused mode”: Thoughts come to you in this state when you’re not intently focused, like when you’re daydreaming or zoning out in the shower.  Creative ideas come to us during this state of mind because this is when our minds are the most relaxed. This is when our brains connect different neural pathways to come up with brand new ideas (the same as how creativity allows us to connect the dots, our brains do this naturally in this state).  The problem is that because our brains are so relaxed, there’s no intention to mark down ideas that come along.

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Never trust your brain: it’s bad at memory

Very often the ideas that come to us during diffuse mode can be a bit abstract. Out of the box thinking, if you will. This is your best content. The high level, creative, new ideas that are going to take the world by storm.

Remember the genius, ground-breaking idea you came up with in the shower? The one that was going to revolutionize the world as we know it? Of course you can’t remember. Your monumental idea slipped through the cracks of your memory, never to be heard from again because you didn’t take the time to write it down.

In today’s race against time, we just can’t spare an extra moment to jot down the ideas that constantly pass through our heads. Some people may think that it’s even a waste of time. We think that if the thought is that important, we will remember it later and put it into action. But we don’t. And we’re just left with that empty vagueness- “I know I was on to something, what was it again?”

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Don’t be lazy, jot down the great idea no matter how confident you are that you’ll remember it

Keep recording tools within reach, but not directly in sight. If you set out a notebook and pen directly in front of you, you are no longer in diffuse mode and thoughts are not free flowing. But you want the notebook to be close enough, so that when the thoughts do come to you, it takes very little mental and physical effort to quickly jot them down.

Smartphone apps such as Evernote are a great option for this. Some others are recording apps, a waterproof notebook for the shower, your laptop, or simply a notebook and pen (this is my personal favorite, more authentic.)

Resist the urge to organize

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of immediately organizing your thoughts as they come to you. Don’t do it. Organizing is a separate task for later, when you switch into focus mode (the opposite of diffuse mode).

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Stick to the process of free thinking and writing down ideas and leaving them alone until later. If you try to organize them as they come, you’ll lose many ideas because you are too focused on a single idea. You’ll also lose motivation because you’re loading yourself up with work and complicating the process.

Review your ideas from time to time

Now that you have the ideas written down, you need to reinforce the ideas to turn them into something bigger. You should review your ideas around 3 times a week.

While reviewing you can filter out some of the less useful ideas, organize them, and start developing the potentially successful ones.

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Remember, most people have plenty of great ideas, just very few of them bother to jot them down. And those who do are the ones who succeed.

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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