Y’all, we’re all busy. Every couple of months there is new technology promising to make our lives easier and more productive. I don’t blame any of us for trying to make our crazy busy lives better. But for me, technology can be a gigantic distraction. It often keeps me from doing the things I’m supposed to be doing. Just now, I specifically came into the office to start this post, but I checked Facebook first. I liked and commented on several posts, shared some links I really loved, and got caught up looking at pictures of my own baby’s first year. The baby who is currently napping in the next room while I’m supposed to be checking stuff off my to-do list. His naps are the only time I can, but I let myself get distracted. AGAIN. But I’ve got a secret to get back on track: old school organization boosts productivity in a digital world.
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Between this collaborative blog, my own personal blog (Blooming in Bedlam), way too many email accounts, personal social media accounts and social media for both blogs, I basically get push notifications on my phone or alerts on my computers (yes, more than one) every 5 seconds. So trying to multi-task on a smart phone is virtually impossible. Before I can take action on one alert, five more have popped up. Trying to keep a mental to-do list is just asking for trouble. Oh, and don’t forget I have a toddler who fearlessly climbs on everything, is THIS close to walking, and runs my life like the cutest tiny dictator in the world.
The Science Behind Writing It Down
So I asked myself, how did I do it back in college? You remember back when you needed an email ending in .edu to get into Facebook? Back then I had 2 part-time jobs, took 15 hours a week at University, commuted one hour each way to said University three times a week, had an additional “job” as part of my academic service scholarship on campus, was activity chair for my sorority, and had some semblance of a social life. Smart phones didn’t exist yet, but I really thought I was something with my first generation iPod. How did I keep it together, always look cute, never miss a deadline or a birthday, work out regularly and keep a 3.5 GPA? Y’all I wrote it down.
I know, it sounds way too simple. But writing something down with pen and paper is actually more likely to be remembered than typing it into your computer or phone. In fact, studies show students who listen and take notes with pen and paper in their own words actually remember and perform better in testing than students that take more copious notes by typing out a lecture verbatim. By typing something out, students are really only using one part of the brain like copy/paste. And it’s gone just as quickly. By listening, comprehending, forming it into your own thoughts, writing it down (even in short hand) and then reading it to make sure it makes sense, students are using up to five different parts of their brain. That’s FIVE different ways a memory is stored as opposed to just typing a lecture you here verbatim without comprehending it because you can’t miss the next word.
Now, I know that most of us are not students taking history notes anymore, but that to-do list and all the deadlines and appointments still need to be remembered. If you are just entering them all into your phone’s calendar or notes section, setting an alarm and relying on that technology to remember it for you, you’re just setting yourself up to fail. You may be in the middle of setting an appointment in the calendar and either your baby falls and cries or an Instagram comment pops up before you’re finished and BAM: you forgot to set an alarm to pick up your bestie at the airport. Or worse, that big pitch your boss wanted on his desk to proof before the CEO came to town gets slapped together at the last minute and you’re never asked again.
My Old School System
Now that I’ve convinced you writing it down is better, I want to share with you my system so you don’t feel overwhelmed. First things first, you need to buy some notebooks, a calendar, and different color writing pens. This system is actually very much inspired by how I studied in highschool and college. For each subject, I had a different colored binder (now a small journal type notebook), different colored pens, and one master calendar so I could see how events and deadlines overlapped. The only real difference, is I chose more sophisticated pretty items over the usual utilitarian school supplies.
For the calendar, you need something that will be small enough to fit in your bag and sturdy enough to stand up to your busy schedule. I love mine by Kate Spade, because it’s pretty and has a hard backing like a binder. But you could also use a smaller pocket calendar. The whole point is you want to be able to see very quickly, whatever you have going on that month all at once. That way you know that you can’t commit to baking cookies on Tuesday night for Wednesday’s meeting because your daughter has soccer practice, but you can volunteer for the next week. Now, could you do that on your phone calendar? Yes, if you finished putting the entry in your phone before you got distracted by a notification and if your toddler didn’t drop your phone in the toilet. But I guarantee if you wrote it down, you’ll probably already remember and just get out the calendar to make sure.
I keep a set of three notebooks by Rifle Paper Co for all of my notes. The mint one is for this blog, the coral one is for Blooming in Bedlam and the pink one is for our personal lives. I keep very detailed to-do’s, inspiration and ideas, as well as meeting notes in them, sorted by date. So if I’m trying to recall exactly what the CPA told me about our business filings, I can look at my calendar, see I met with him on May 9th, and flip back to my notes in the mint notebook from that day. Boom! If I’m in a meeting and a deadline or appointment presents itself, I usually write it down there then go and add it to my calendar later.
Because I’m especially geeky (and really love office supplies), I write everything down in different colors. When you look at my calendar, the pink is for Strong Girl deadlines, Green is for Blooming in Bedlam deadlines, the dark blue is for my son, and the light blue is for me. Basically, I can look at my calendar that morning and know which proverbial hat to put on. When I’m talking with someone about an upcoming event, I picture the different colors I used on my calendar and know if the timing is going to work out or not. Then I get out my calendar and pick a different date if (more like when) there is a conflict.
Final keys to success
The biggest key to success is to just get yourself in the habit of looking every single day at your calendar. Whether you look at it at night for the next day, or you look at it first thing in the morning, you know which direction you need to focus your efforts without picking up your phone and getting distracted. Think about whether you pick out your outfits the night before or the same day. Right before you pick out your clothes, look at your calendar. If it’s somehow miraculously empty, look at what is coming up next and check out your last bit of notes on that subject, then try to get ahead. Before you know it, you’ll have it all visually mapped out in your mind and be so far ahead of everybody else. You may even be able to pencil in a pedicure. When you do get on Facebook, it’s because you have time to get distracted. So that’s how old school organization boosts productivity in a digital world. Are you ready to try it?