Store what you learn

by David Harris on March 17, 2011

I don’t know what your memory is like, but I feel like mine is pretty terrible. However, I find it easier to remember that I did know something, or had come across something on a topic, even if I can’t remember exactly what it was.

If you’re an infoleader, reading voraciously and widely, you’re going to have trouble keeping everything in your head.

There’s also good reason to think that you shouldn’t try to remember it all. You need to let things bump around with enough space to turn into something more. David Allen writes a lot about the philosophy of removing things from your mind in Getting Things Done.

So I’m suggesting you shouldn’t be remembering everything but do need to have lots of information on hand. What do you do?

Well, you use a backup memory! This could take a variety of forms. Some people are compulsive scribblers of notes, others take lots of photographs, some catalogue information in great detail.

Stored information is only as useful as how accessible it is, so you need to find a way to be able to get back to it again.

The technique you use will partly depend on how your memory works, but I think you need some way to search all the information you have on hand, so you need to store it in a searchable format.

My personal favorite tool is electronic. I use Evernote to clip ideas, documents scans, jotted notes, photos, web pages, and just about any other kind of information I come across. The beauty of Evernote is that I can record information from my phone, my camera, paper documents, and web pages trivially. And then Evernote makes it all searchable, including handwritten text in photos and in scanned documents.

It takes a little while to get into the habit but now when I get a business card, I just take a photo and upload it, without needing to ever type any information in, or index it. If I find a passage in a book I’m reading, I’ll take a picture. If I like a magazine article, I’ll scan it.

All of this information can be released from my brain because I know I can find it again if I have some prompt that calls for it.

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