In part one of this series, we discussed the brain’s limitations, and how to combat them by reducing the number of decisions we make every day. In this post we continue the discussion.
There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: the palest ink is stronger than the strongest mind. It means that unless you have a photographic memory, humans are no match for pen and paper when it comes to recall and retention.
Have you ever been in the middle of an exam, trying to remember an answer? You can “see” in your mind the page in your notebook where the answer is, but you can’t remember exactly what is on the page. After the exam you run to your notebook, and swear it is mocking you with the correct answer right there on the page. Advantage: pen and paper.
Since the pen and paper are so good at what they do, why not harness their power to help you? In order to do this, you might consider borrowing the following strategy from one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. Albert Einstein was once asked by a reporter for his phone number. Mr. Einstein grabbed the telephone directory, looked up his own number, and wrote it down for the reporter. The reporter was a little taken aback, and asked why, if he was so smart, didn’t he know his own phone number? Mr. Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?”
This is a pretty powerful concept. Do you really need to have all of the birthdays and anniversaries in your family memorized, or can you put them down in your calendar at the beginning of each year? Do you really need to have your syllabus dates memorized, or can you add them to your calendar also? What about trash night? It sounds simplistic, but you may even consider putting trash night and other similar recurring events on your calendar; once it is written down, you no longer have to remember when it is.
It’s like Ron Popeil’s rotisserie oven infomercial: set it and forget it. Don’t waste your brain power on a mental grocery list, and spend 40 minutes wandering up and down the aisles wondering if you have enough chicken and toilet paper for the week. Plan it out and write it down before you go, and get it out of your brain to make room for things like normative range of motion values of the adult shoulder, and the implications of providing mobility training to a patient with a sternotomy.
Think of all the things you can write down instead of allowing them to use up your mental reserve. What could you replace that space with? Einstein replaced it with Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physics.
But before you go writing down all of these things on random sticky notes and leaving them everywhere, make sure you have a system first. The number one rule of that system? Make sure you are only using one method for keeping track of it all.
For more on this, check out our blog post: The Best Time Management Tip You’ll Ever Get. For more on improving your performance in PT school, make sure you read the last post in this series, “Words With Friends Actions” where we introduce a study method designed to help you retain more information.