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‘The Write it Down’ Hack

Write Everything Down

Notepad - Write Everything Down
Write Everything Down

Forget spending half your time online looking for ways to be more productive. There is just one thing you should do that will bring you the most results. Write things down.

He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance office increases the number of accidents.(Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Emerson was complaining about notebook technology – because it impaired the proper functioning of memory. But I would argue the opposite. Emerson’s implicit assumption is that memory must be something biological, that it must be located between our two years. We are constantly relying on Google and Wikipedia to remember things for us, that we’ve forgotten that there was a time that this wasn’t possible. Is this, like Emerson claims, a problem?

Maybe not. If we assume that technology will always be with us, then it is irrational to treat it as a problem. We are no longer ordinary human beings. Our technological devices, for better or worse, have become part of who we are – we are superhuman.

There are, of course, some repercussions to this, an impaired memory may be one of them. But instead of blocking out new technology, we should learn to make use of it wisely. There is a trade-off that exists here. In return for losing memory skills, we gain time and clarity.

I was read a great book by David Allen called “Getting Things Done”. The message was simple yet effective – which tends to be the case with most things that are simple: Write everything down.

Your brain is constantly creating new thoughts and ideas. Emerson’s problem was that he didn’t want to lose the ability to remember, but our modern problem is more pressing, it’s that we need to have the ability to forget. The remembering part is the problem. We remember too much. Our thoughts are unceasing, and this, far from giving us clarity, makes our lives more difficult. We lose track of our priorities.

When you write everything down and sort them out later into different categories ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’, ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent’, you free your mind up. The point isn’t to retain as much information as possible, it’s to have proper command of whatever information you do have.

2 replies on “‘The Write it Down’ Hack”

Great insightful post. I used to struggle with writing things down because I was so disorganised I would forget where I put my notepad. Since starting blogging I make notes in a draft that will always remain unpublished. Its a great way to reflect as there is so many things I have forgotten.

Thank you for your comment, it’s good to know people can see where I’m coming from.

You reminded me of a funny story I once read about Thomas Edison. He was notoriously forgetful, and every time he had an idea for an invention he’d scribble them down on different pieces of paper, but when then he would lose them all. His wife told him it would be a good idea to just write them down in a diary, but then after a while, he lost the diary too.

I think it’s truly amazing we have the technology we have today. It really makes it so easy for us to maximize our potential. I always what else Edison might have invented if he could store his thoughts online.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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