December 4, 2016

I Have a Mind Like a Sieve... How I Built a World of Lifehacks

Do you know that feeling, when you look away from the watch (or phone) and immediately realize that... you already forgot what time it is? I experience it more often than I want to.

My nervous system and especially my short-term memory is playing tricks with me all the time. I go to grab something, and before I get to the right place, I already forgot what I was looking for… or I’m getting distracted and am bringing back something completely different. I leave home to get to the shop, but I turn into the road, I usually take, to the office. I can think about hundreds of such situations from my life. Some are one-off, some repeat quite often.

I always though this is due to my lack of focus, that I need to try harder to handle it better… Many people felt disrespected, as I was not doing what I told them I do. Until recently, when I was reading about how introvert’s brain is functioning and I realized that this might be part of my natural "design", which most likely I cannot alter.

When I started to think more about how this affects my life, I also realized, that to compensate this shortcoming, over the years I unconsciously developed dozens of lifehacks and systems, which are making it possible for me to (better or worse) deal with my life duties.

When subconscious mind takes over

I think that subconscious auto-compensation for one's inability is rather usual among people (and in nature in general). People who can't rely on their senses or have disabilities are developing new ways of handling the needs of their lives with alternative means - in many cases, this happens instinctively. My father is color-blind, he can see no difference between green and brown. But, in life, this went unnoticed, even for him, until he was 10 or 11. Being a child, he unconsciously developed a system. His brain, to distinguish colors, was using differences in saturation and luminance. He learned to use name "brown" for the color of a bark of a tree (which he saw as darker), and "green" for leaves (which was lighter). This came out, only because he once had chosen to draw bark using very dark green and leaves with light brown. Still, in most situations, using his system he can function like anyone else, he knows, that when the light at the bottom of the traffic lights goes on it means GO.

Simple, yet effective

Even thou introversion, unlike daltonism, is not considered a dysfunction, it also influences many areas of my life. Now, when I know more about it and analyze what I do, in a more thoughtful way, I see that I actually use "systems" or lifehacks all the time.

I don’t know how exactly I came with ideas for those systems, they came to me over time and proved themselves to work. Most of them depend on creating some visual clues for me, and they are all dead simple.

I put Post-It notes on my home door to have a visual reminder when I will be leaving.

I take medicines twice a day. I typically remember to take them before sleep, but hardly ever when I wake up. So, when I'm taking my evening pills, I put the morning set on the shelf, next to my phone. That way, in the morning, when I'm taking my phone I immediately see also my tablets. 

I always put my car keys, wallet, phone, glasses into same spots. Otherwise, I can never find them, even if I know I had them in my hand just 20 minutes earlier.

I often use satnav in the car... although I know my area and city inside out, this is to keep reminding me where do I go, and that that I should divert somewhere out of my beaten track.

When I go to the shop, and for any reason can't write a shopping list, on top of trying to memorize what I have to purchase, I do count how many things there are on my list (somehow, I'm much better with numbers :-). This is not always sufficient, but at least I know that I should call my wife to ask, what was the fifth thing I was supposed to buy. 

I have a To-Do application asking me every morning to review today's tasks and most important showing a task list on the home screen of my phone so I can always see it (this is one of the key reasons I prefer Android over iPhone ;-)

When I travel, I know, that I always must have three things in my pockets - passport, wallet, and phone. I count them every time I'm going through a point after which there is no return - like security check, passport control, leaving a plane.

Getting into a hotel room and unpacking my stuff, I never put anything into drawers, I always keep everything in sight. When leaving the hotel, I can quickly look through the room and get assured that all my belongings are with me (what unfortunately is not always the case).

I force myself to take notes during conversations and phone calls – writing down every single to do, regardless how sure I'm I won't forget (I know I will).

And many, many more... 

I can't trust myself...?

If you ever tried any of such systems, you probably know, that the hardest part is to stop trusting yourself. It's so natural to be utterly sure that this one time I won't forget where I put my things... For me, this was very hard, especially that I have rather good long-term memory. 

Over time (and after many disappointments) I think I somehow did learn to limit my own trust in my short-term memory. This was a long process because the "gaps" in the short-term memory are not permanent. Quite often I recall in the right moment what I was supposed to do, but not often enough to make mi trust myself.

I still sometimes (I think way too often) over-trust my short-term memory and put things in "wrong" places, ignore the need to set a reminder or make a note. But if only I notice it (often after a while) I do my best to force myself to get back to the proven system. It became easier since I learned much more about introversion and the nervous system. Being mindful I can now intentionally, stick to my systems, and even create new ones. 

I know that using those little helpers is not a sign of being dumb (I hope ;-) but just a need of my introverted brain, which I can't change, no matter how hard I will try.

Systems, systems everywhere

The more I think about ways I'm supporting my brain functions, I realized that I have some lifehacks for almost every area in which introverts are not as effective as extroverts. I have a system for handling big social events, family gatherings, phone calls, dealing with stress, performing presentations, talking to many people... 

Except, I still don't have any reliable solution for remembering names (another typical introvert issue). Apart from arranging business cards on the table, in the same order as people are seated in the room, nothing else ever worked for me (or felt too awkward to be used). 

Do you also need lifehacks to support your brain in daily tasks?