Memory and Getting Things Done

Recently, during a week-long training course  (props to the very excellent custom training by Brian Noyes), I ended the week with about 30 pages of handwritten notes on legal paper and someone asked  me why I write so much and why I wouldn’t just try to absorb it – they didn’t understand that the writing of notes has almost nothing to do with using these as future reference.  Many studies have shown that the mere writing down of facts onto paper is hugely beneficial and helps you –   

  • Understand the information better as you realize as you are writing it that you need to paraphrase and verbalize in your head what you just heard – which then gives you the chance to ask follow-up questions (unless you are the shy type that hates asking questions in a group setting for fear of looking dumb – I am not one of those people – I will gladly trade my looking dumb for better knowledge and understanding anytime  🙂
  • As you are writing down facts, this makes it easier for the brain to sort and process this new information for better and more efficient storage – increasing the chances that it may get stored into longer-term memory in a more accessible fashion – think of it as a way of best utilizing your brain’s contiguous storage
  • And finally, yes, it may serve as reference materials to help me remember specific examples, sources cited, reference materials mentioned, or stories behind the context if I actually go back and read them but as I mentioned – I rarely go back and re-read what I wrote – writing things down for me is a means to remember – any other benefits are purely tangental.

But the same thing goes for goal setting – I wish I could cite a source for this but I remember a course I took where some statistics were mentioned that went something like this…….only 2% of the goals not written down get achieved, while the actual act of just writing it down raised its chances for success up to 40%, while writing it down and committing to a date raised it even higher.

New information won’t help me get things done unless I can properly retain it and process it anyway – otherwise, we are just going through the motions sitting in on training, conferences, speakers, etc.  Sidebar here – I am always amazed at conferences by those souls who park themselves in the far back of the room (usually by an outlet so they can charge up their netbooks, IPhones, whatever) and keep plugged into the Matrix all the while missing opportunities for new knowledge to possibly click in with a great new idea or opportunity.  That’s bizarre to me but then I never understand why people pass up free knowledge at user group meetings either especially when traveling speakers come thru town – dude, those are called opportunities and if you don’t grok that – that’s a problem.

So why wouldn’t I write things down?  besides, I have always seen bringing a notepad to a speaker, talk, training as a sign of respect – it says “I expect this person has something of value to say, and I would like to retain some of that” – that’s my thinking anyway.  I have sent young developers back to their cubicles to get a notepad when I think they will need one – I just think it’s a good habit to get into.

PS – Speaking of Getting Things Done – if you really want to get into a “Getting Things Done” mode – do yourself a favor and hang out with the Lifehacker crowd at – I have been hooked ever since reading Gina Trapani’s book “Lifehacker” a few years back – I focus mainly on their software and organizational hints but they have all kinds.


May all of your tailgating parties be well stocked with cold beer this fall…and of course, Go Cowboys.


About bradosterloo

.NET Software Developer working for Innovative Systems, LLC in Mitchell, SD
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