In An Age Of Information Overload, How Can We Use Systems Outside Our Head To Help Us?
I am currently reading ‘The Organized Mind’ in an attempt to live more mindfully by offloading as much information and unnecessary thinking into the external world as possible. I came across the ‘3×5 index card’ idea in the book and have been using it for a week and LOVE how free it is leaving my mind to focus on the now!
Eckhart Tolle ( The Power of Now) stated that 80-90% of our thoughts are repetitive. That means that our present moment experiences are being stolen by unnecessary worrying about thoughts we have already wasted time on.
So what is the 3×5 index card idea?
Instead of carrying a notebook, the idea is to have a stack of cards/sticky notes or you could use your phone but ensure each note is separate NOT A LIST .
“If you get an idea for something you’re working on you put it on one card. You’re sitting on a bus a suddenly remember Some people you need to call and some things you need to pick up a the hardware store- that’s several more cards. Perhaps you figure out a solution to a problem someone close to you is having- that goes on a card. The point is that everytime a thought appears while you are in the present moment , you write it down.”
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, calls this kind of note taking ‘clearing the mind.” Your mind tries to remind you of all kinds of things when you can’t do anything about them. REMEMBER when we are letting these thoughts consume our mind – we are only thinking about our concerns, not making progress on them.
When we have something on our minds we fear we might forget it so our brain rehearses it , tosses it around in circles – cognitive psychologists refer to this as the “rehearsal loop ” This loop evolved in a world that had no pens and paper, no smartphones or other physical extensions of the human brain. ” It was all we had for tens of thousands of years.”
“Writing down the things that we need to do gives both implicit and explicit permission to the rehearsal loop to let them go, to relax it’s neural circuits so that we can focus on something else”
For the past week I have kept a bunch of sticky notes on me, ensuring that only one idea or task is per card. Rather than writing lists like I normally do , the individual cards allow for quick sorting and provides random access so that I can access any idea on it’s own rather than getting distracted by another thought or idea on the same card. I then did what the book suggested and sorted my notes into categories:
‘Do it‘, ‘Delegate it‘, ‘Defer it‘, and ‘Drop it‘. It is suggested that if you can attend to any one of the things on the list in less than 2 minutes, do it now. If someone else can do the task then delegate it and if it is going to take more than 2 minutes, defer it- it may only be until later today or tonight but make that agreement that you will only focus on that later! Priorities change so drop any tasks you feel are not worth your time anymore.
Decision making is usually required to cross things off my sticky note. Sometimes we may think we don’t have enough information to make the decision straight away, in that case we take 2 minutes on that card to think about what other information we need to make this decision, and write it down. That way you are reminding your mind that you are dealing with it and you do not need the recurring thoughts coming through reminding you that you need to handle this.
” The index card system is easily one of what must be an infinite number of brain extension devices”
“As humble and low-tech as it may seem, the 3×5 card system is powerful. That is because it builds on the neuroscience of attention , memory and categorization. The task-negative or mind wandering mode is responsible for generating much useful information, but so much of it comes at the wrong time. We eternalize our memory by putting that information on index cards. We then harness the power of the brain’s intrinsic and evolutionarily ancient desire to categorize by creating little bins for those external memories, bins that we can peer into whenever our central executive network wishes to. You may say categorizing and externalizing our memory enables us to balance the yin of our wandering thoughts with the yang of our focused execution.”
Let me know if you are willing to give this a try next week- I would love to hear your thoughts 🙂