Optimize, don't Organize: Part 3

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here


3.Too much information is a bad thing.

If you don’t rely on your memory enough, you will get slow and lazy.  Conversely, if you try to remember too much, you end up remembering nothing. It's not only important to remember the right information, it's important to not overdo it. By trying to remember or learn more than you actually need, the important details can become lost in amongst the redundant details.

Information overload.

I remember at high school and university how much I’d laugh at people summarising text books. I can't think of a more useless activity. Some students would take a 400 page text book, and summarise it down to a 50 page set of notes and take that into an exam. These are the people that invariably don’t finish exams. They spend more time looking up examples than they do actually working. There is a balance. My “cheat sheet” only ever consisted of formulae that I really had no hope of remembering. While they were summarising, I was revising the application of these formulae. Everything in an exam is an application of knowledge. If you don’t trust yourself to hold that knowledge, how can you possibly hope to apply it? 

Long lists never last.

A mountain of notes, when finished, seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Similarly, long todo lists are more scary than they are helpful. In an attempt to get organized, the first thing everybody does is write down a todo list. Then they see a mountain of work and give up in disgust. Long lists are the world’s worst motivator. Yes it might feel good to tick a few items off, but when you feel like you’re not even scratching the surface it becomes a big turn off. You don’t even want to look at the list for the fear of rapid onset depression. The longer the list, the quicker you will drop it. If you must make a list, list the things that you need to do today or this week. Keep next month’s out of sight until next month.

Be selective about what you write down.

Some things you really should just remember. Your partner’s birthday, your computer password and when that “really important thing” is due are things you should probably be able to remember. If you need to write these things down to remember them, you’re going to find yourself in trouble. Over reliance on todo lists is as bad as not having one at all. As good as my wife is at organising, she can never remember our anniversary without looking it up first. One day you’ll be caught without your precious list, and then you'll find yourself red faced, or worse. Barring serious health concerns or a head injury you’ll always have your memory with you. Trust it...even if it is just a little bit. Over reliance on lists and notes just makes us lazy.

Coming up:

4 -  What's the worst that can happen?
5 - The better way to prioritize.
6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.