Off-load Information From Your Brain

The brain organizes information in its own idiosyncratic way, a way that has served us very well. But in an age of information overload, not to mention decision overload, we need systems outside our heads to help us.

Categories can off-load a lot of the difficult work of the brain into the environment. If we have a drawer for baking supplies, we don’t need to remember separately where ten different items are —the rolling pin, the cookie cutters, the sifter, and so on— we just remember that we have a category for baking tools, and it is on the third drawer down underneath the coffeemaker.

Calendars, smartphones, and address books are also brain extenders, externalizing onto paper or into computer chips myriad details that we no longer have to keeep in our heads.

Off-loading the information from our brain and into the environment allows us to use the environment itself to remind us of what needs to be done. Everyone who has ever done something like leaving the library book that needs to be returned next to the car keys has made use of this principle.

Another example is for instance If you’re afraid you’ll forget to buy milk on the way home, put an empty milk carton on the seat next to you in the car or in the backpack you carry to work on the subway (a note would do, of course, but the carton is more unusual and so more apt to grab your attention).

Keep in mind also the importance of putting things away in their designated places, because there’s a special part of our brain dedicated to remembering the spatial location of things. However, the brain is only good at remembering stationary things, not things that move around — so if you put your car keys in a different place every time, your brain is less likely to help you out when you go to find them.

Good labels matter, too. A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled item. … With mislabeled drawers, you don’t know which ones you can trust and which ones you can’t.

Summing-up: Information overload is a genuine problem. And, growing – rapidly. To survive information overload, you need a system (that works for you). Whatever that system is, it needs to off-load information from our brain. Creativity and organization are not antithetical — rather, they go hand in hand.

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