Creating an External Hard Drive for Your Brain

Reader Contribution by Staff

Do you procrastinate because the thought of starting a new project around the home or at work — or even completing some lesser task like fixing the backyard fence — is just too much? 

Do you often feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to do and, as a result, become paralyzed, unable to get much of anything done? 

Do you end up frequently making excuses because you haven’t completed tasks you promised others you’d do? 

I’ve never had trouble getting things done.  I’m extremely driven, very good about getting things done and on time. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or that I don’t feel overwhelmed at times when I contemplate all the things I have to do or beginning a new project. 

What helps me over come paralysis are several little tricks. They work all the time for me, helping me  overcome the forces that would otherwise keep me from meeting my obligations and living a productive life. You might benefit from some of these elegantly simple tools and techniques. 

The first tool that helps me organize and plan my day and get started is a good old-fashioned notebook to record to do lists and lots more. I’m staring at one now as I write this blog.  

My daily to do list contains all the things I want to complete today in the airport and on my flight home from Seattle. I just spent two days speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair south of Seattle and am heading home to Missouri. 

I became a list maker after an accident that occurred many years ago. I was working on a window inside my house, perched on an aluminum ladder 15 feet above a tile floor. Unfortunately, the ladder slipped out from under me, and I came crashing down onto the rock-hard floor. I broke my hip, fractured a few ribs, crushed my left wrist, and suffered a severe concussion.  

I spent two weeks in a Denver hospital: one week in the multiple trauma unit, and then another in a semi-private room undergoing the first of what would become a long grueling bout of physical therapy. 

I was in pretty good shape when I got home, although, I was restricted to a wheel chair. My concussion, however, made it difficult for me to remember things. I’d find that editors would call me to discuss a new book. Although I’d listen intently, understanding every word, a week or so later when they’d call back, I had no recollection of the phone call.  

None whatsoever.   

It was then that I started keeping a notebook to record important details of conversations and decisions. I recorded the date and phone numbers, all details that seemed relevant.  This worked well for me while I recovered and my brain got back into good working order. A decade or so later, I still record conversations and other details in spiral notebooks, which I carry with me at all times. I date each page, and also keep my daily project lists in my spiral notebook as well.  

This simple notebook has saved me on numerous occasions. I’ve been able to track conversations, look up pricing information that I’d been given by others, find phone numbers, keep track of appointments, and lots more.  

I use the 6 x 9 spiral notebooks to record such things and carry it with me everywhere. I use it to list projects I want to complete in the future, new ideas for books and articles, and, of course, write my daily to do lists. 

Each day when I finish my day’s work, I prepare a new list of tasks I hope to accomplish the next day: phone calls, important e-mails, trips to the post office, and writing projects I need to complete. That way, I can leave my desk worry free. No need to fret over what I’ve got to do the next day. I don’t obsess over or even think about the next day’s work, because I know it is safely recorded in my notebook.  

If a new task pops into my mind, I promptly write it down, and forget about it. I even keep the list by me at night because I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night.  Ideas immediately start circling in my head, like vultures, creating tension. To avoid this, I promptly jot the idea down, then go back to sleep, content that I won’t forget the next idea. Even nontask related ideas, like an insight I have, or a thought I need to revisit, gets jotted down at times like these to reduce fretting and attendant stress.  

I strive to neat lists, so they are easy to read and uncluttered. I double space items and add a details as necessary.   

This list has helped reduce stress in my life.  

If you have troubles getting organized, you may want to give this simple idea a try. A notebook to record you daily lists, thoughts, conversations, etc. will become a reliable extension of your memory, an external hard drive that will relieve a lot of stress and help keep you on track. Doing so will help you get things done, too, moving you forward. 

In my next blog, I’ll give you some advice on managing that list and how to use it to get started each morning… 

To my readers… 

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Contributing editorDan Chirasis a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog,Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visitinghis websiteor finding him on.

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