Albert Einstein was once asked a simple question for which he did not have the answer. The world-renowned genius’ response was, “I don’t clutter my head with things that can be found in a book.”. I knew there was a reason that story has stayed with me. And I certainly don’t clutter my head with anything I can do without.
The journal Psychological Science reports that tests on university students who hand-wrote their class notes instead of typing them on a laptop had better retention of what they were learning. The Cleveland Browns of the NFL have put this knowledge to practical use and now require that their players write team strategies by hand. According to Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, author of Organized Mind, professor and neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, our brain has only so much capacity for retained information so we should not clutter it with useless information. The human brain works much like our laptops. We have ROM for functioning and RAM for storing data and I certainly wouldn’t like my RAM to jam. It might affect my ROM and then I’d be royally screwed.
On an everyday level we can all relate to the importance of “To Do” lists in our lives. If we write down a task and enjoy the act of stroking it out when it’s completed, we feel satisfied and less stressed. Taking this a step further, Dr. Levitin suggests that making “To Do” lists is a kind of mental clutter that should be dispensed with in favour of breaking down the tasks. We should put each task or piece of information on a separate piece of paper such as an index card to free the brain from what he calls “rehearsal loop” or replaying of an idea or task repeatedly to remember it. Students practise this technique by writing and rewriting information on flash cards or index cards to etch it in their brains for exams. Stupid me—I just tried to memorize everything and was rewarded with dismal results.
However, maybe I have genius potential after all. A few years ago, after I retired I ditched my “To Do” list system in favour of putting sticky Post-In notes on my kitchen cupboard doors. After I complete the ironing sticky note, I gleefully rip it off and stash in the drawer for re-use next time. This system works beautifully and keeps me organized and stress-free. Perhaps Dr. Levitin would like to research my brain. I’m amazing at retaining garbage but have trouble remembering the simple sequence of the three buttons I need to push on the remote to engage my PVR. Fortunately, I wrote it down on a stickie that I keep beside the remote. Otherwise my life would be chaos. Now it’s Guide, Record, Select. Simple, but I can only retain that information as long as it’s written on a yellow stickie. It’s genius.