Systems for Your Mind with Calendars

This is a follow up to last week’s post, but is less focused around reducing your stress levels as much as it is about knowledge retention.

I talked before about creating systems to reduce your stress and free up more time, by putting aspects of your life on auto-pilot. These systems do the work for you, so you don’t have to waste any mental capacity on making unnecessary decisions.

But there are other systems you can implement that function more like a calendar. Calendar’s aren’t there to get things done for you, they are for jogging your memory, helping you to remember to do something that you otherwise would have forgotten or not accounted for.

We all use systems like this for remembering certain things: birthdays, meeting minutes, doctors’ appointments. But they can be extended for use in so many more areas of life:

Note Taking

I like to think I read a decent amount, averaging around a book a week. The intent here is not just to read for readings sake – I read to learn. But you only have so much mental capacity. It would be impossible to think you can remember all that you read and be able to access that information on a moment’s notice.

Even Einstein himself, when asked what the speed of sound was, responded: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbooks.”

Instead, keep the key information close at hand so you can get it when you need it. I take notes on virtually everything that I read, and have a pretty in-depth system for accomplishing this. Without getting into the weeds, the gist of the system is to log anything from a book that you think is going to be important for yourself to remember. Personally, I use a Word file, where I also write a quick summary of the key concepts to help solidify my takeaways.

Index Cards

I also have what is referred to as a Commonplace book, an idea I got off of Ryan Holiday’s page.

The idea is to write down on an index card anything that you find interesting that you come across in your day. These can be quotes from a book, ideas for your business, or just random excerpts that catch your attention.

This serves a couple of roles. First, it can be another resource for finding inspiration if you’re in a mental slump, remembering that killer business idea you had, or finding a book someone mentioned that you want to check out. Secondly, it can help you begin to realize various themes that interest you as you fill out more and more cards, helping you find what you’re subconsciously passionate about.

Either way, this is just another, more portable way to get your thoughts down for future referencing. Because how many times have you had that great, ground-breaking idea, only to be completely stumped in remembering it 30 minutes later?

Journals

I have two different journals that I use to write and reflect in.

The first is a daily journal, which I use mostly for reflecting on how I feel about a day’s events. I have a tendency to live within my own head and not outlet properly to the people around me. This leads to a very skewed perception of what just happened throughout the day – I either make certain events far too important, or completely neglect certain aspects of my life that I need to maintain some semblance of balance.

By pausing at the end of your day to reflect on the day’s events, you can get your thoughts and emotions outside of your own head and gain a bit of perspective to help mentally reset yourself before hitting the sack, so you can hit the ground running tomorrow.

The second, more strategic journal, is for more big-picture reflections or lessons I’ve learned over time, that I can quickly look back on. This usually involves monthly goals, the occasional 80/20 analysis (identifying what 20% of your actions are creating 80% of the results), and reflections on macro-scale life events, such as job hunting, hitting a rough patch in a relationship, or progress on a new habit you are trying to form. I also strategize and plan out what books I want to read over the coming weeks in here. All-in-all, this journal only gets used every couple of weeks.

Trackers

I promise this isn’t quite what it sounds like.

As an introvert, keeping in constant contact with people can be hard, and is definitely something I have struggled with mightily over the years.

As a result, I have created a system for keeping in touch with people on a regular basis via an Excel Tracker. I can categorize people (personal, career, around-town), save their information, and set reminders how frequently I want to keep in touch with them, at a minimum. (For an alternative system, read Power Connector. Its where the idea came from)

Yes, you could pay for CRM software to do the same, but this makes keeping in touch with people feel less robotic and corporate, and besides, I’m kinda cheap.

This might all seem like a lot of recording, and who knows, maybe it is. But it works for me. The key is to find what works for you. What systems or methodologies can you use to help retain, track, or simply create knowledge? Maybe you just write everything in one giant notebook, or maybe there is an app that suits you better. Whatever it is, having ‘calendars’ for various aspects of your life can be an immense help to make sure you continue to drive forward every day, creating a bank of knowledge and insights to fall back on no matter what happens in your journey.

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