“Come on, Frank, an officer files things in his head. He doesn’t remember them until they pop up, you know that: a face, a street, a name, a number, zabba-dabba-doo, like that…”
Lieutenant Theo Kojak/1976
Listen to – Gladys Knight and the Pips “So Sad The Song” (I know that we both talked it over, said it’s best to forget)
Read or watch – Ray Bradbury “Fahrenheit 451” (people memorising stories because the books are being burned)
My avid consumption of books and videos about various methods of time management/planning has led me to an interesting juncture; a conundrum which is summed up by two equal and opposing concepts:-
- “Use it or lose it”
- “Your brain is not for storage, it is for creativity”
Most planning systems are based on the second of these two ideas and posit that you cannot trust your brain to store and organise all of the information about your life. You therefore need a trusted system to capture all your memories, all your thoughts, all your ideas, everything you need to do and everywhere you need to be so that your brain can be clear.
There is a barely disguised suggestion in this that life is so complex and so fast that your brain is not big enough for it.
However, there is an increasing amount of media coverage about the first of the concepts, advising us on how we need to exercise our brains and do crosswords, or Sudoku puzzles, or memorise poetry if we are to avoid our brains atrophying.
Oh, you are not memorising poetry yet? I have several large passages committed to memory and am currently working on “Meeting Point” by Louis MacNeice: I know all the verses, but struggle to keep them in the right order.
The idea of being able to trust my brain appeals to me, perhaps because I have never really been a list-maker and regardless of how many hand-written or device-orientated “to do” lists I have, I tend to do what is uppermost in my mind. Conversely, I find the idea of not being able to trust my brain very upsetting because I want to be in control of my direction; I don’t want to cede that control to a leather-bound planner or a whizzy device, however much I enjoy owning and playing with such items.
My brain, when I choose to use it, is actually pretty good at recalling things, and at prioritising what needs to be done. When I begin to lose track it is usually because I have become over-burdened, either with tasks that need doing or with more insidious “input”. It is not that I have forgotten what is most important at the time, more that I have successfully over-written it with fluff. In fact, I feel that often failure to accomplish something because “I forgot” is inaccurate and I should instead say “I chose not to remember”.
Of course, I am not espousing the rejection of all written or recorded material in favour of brain-power alone, just a more organic and more thoughtful use of both. And now I have to refer back to Kojak to illustrate a way of working that could be relevant now, either between managers and their team members, or just within your own personal task-setting.
Here is the scene – Kojak is sitting in his office and he yells “Crocker!” Detective Crocker appears and Kojak barks one concise instruction at him. Crocker doesn’t need to write it down, he has a single, well-defined task to do and he shoots off and does it. If it involves finding some information, he comes back, maybe with a brief written note, and tells Kojak the answer and that progresses the investigation. (I accept that sometimes even Kojak is a little blurry – like the episode that contained the line “Crocker – do it all.” On the whole he’s pretty good with his instructions.)
You will note that they didn’t have to book a meeting room and work through a long list of items of varying importance which they could only recall because they’d written them on a @Kojak/@Crocker list. I think in the modern workplace we can get bogged down in detail and lose immediacy. If we were giving our brains the leading role in our work, we might focus more on the really important and the really urgent and leave behind some of the purely bureaucratic and petty tasks that we consider so important in our current endeavours.
It is useful to write down times and dates in a diary, to remind ourselves of things that we need to attend to at a given moment and sometimes it is necessary to write a list of everything you need to do because you lack focus on that day, or in that hour. I just don’t want to delegate everything to some other system when using my brain could be a better way all-round.
So, this week I am trying to think hard about what I need to do next to make progress on the important things in my life and I am treating pen and paper, and my electronic devices, as aides-memoire instead of using my brain to assist the all-important List. I hope I will feel more human this way, because no-one wants to be just an organic limb carrying out the demands of a non-sentient catalogue of tasks.
Yes, I have no doubt there will be a lot of things that I forget, but I think that is how we sieve out that good ideas from the not so good ones. I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I might find that my brain is exactly the right size for my life.