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Advice & News

October 8, 2018

Put Down the Smartphone and Try This Low-Tech Key to Success


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There are a lot of apps and "life hacks" out there to help you navigate your day and be more effective. But if you want to be your best self at work, on a job interview, or at your next networking event, the best approach might be to keep it simple and go low-tech.

Try keeping a business card or a 3-by-5-inch index card in your pocket. Write on the card to externalize your thoughts and guide your day. You may still have a cache of business cards from previous jobs throughout your career, so it may seem like a karmic way to draw on past experiences.

"Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them," said David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done," who suggested in a webinar on the GTD website that people should avoid wasting cognitive effort trying to remember tasks, recalling ideas, and the things they ought to be thinking about -- things that your brain does poorly and was not evolved to do.

"You're overwhelming yourself with all the unknowns that are out there," Allen said. "If you don't have the external brain, your internal brain is trying to track all of that, for which it does not have all the energy or bandwidth to be doing all the other kind of thinking that it's designed to do."

The brain is better than any computer software, according to Allen, for its ability to recognize and draw meaning from patterns and rely on its environment. The brain responds to flight-or-fight triggers. External systems, such as an index card in your pocket, help you collect ideas or trigger productive behaviors so that, as Allen said, "The thinking is done, all (you) have to do is execute."

Now, you may already have a trusty external system, such as an app like Evernote, or you rely on notifications from an Outlook calendar to run your day. But your notecard is different. Having a separate system from your smartphone is a visual reminder that this is more important. Leave all the noise and distractions in one hand and hold what matters most in the other. Additionally, research shows that writing longhand improves your learning and retention, and, overall, getting your goals out of your head will increase the likelihood of achieving them.

OK, so you're ready to write on your index or business card. What next? You can write down the two or three things that you need to do that will make your day a success. Use the 10 lines on a 3-by-5 index card and write down the goal for each of the next 10 hours. Also, there's evidence that simply writing what you're grateful for will increase your happiness. If you're preparing for a job interview, a meeting, or a networking event, jot down the talking points you want to emphasize or dump all the recall items that will clog up your cognitive bandwidth, like people's names or key metrics.

If you're still staring at an empty notecard, author Todd Henry has a mnemonic device using the letters from his book, "Die Empty," that he shared on an episode of his podcast, "How To Run Your Day From The Back Of An Index Card."

For "E," write down your ethic, or a set of words that define what you'll bring to your work today.

For "M," write your mission for the day or the semester, perhaps related to your institution's strategic plan or student learning outcomes.

For "P," write down the people who you hope to influence today, adding value to students' lives, reconciling differences or resolving issues with colleagues, or simply engaging in a friendly conversation with someone you know you will encounter.

For "T," write down your tasks, but keep it a short list, because the more priorities you have, the less they become priorities.

For "Y," remember YOU, and identify all the opportunities you have to develop yourself today and feed your curiosity.

If you're using your business card for this exercise, the writing you put on the back could improve upon the title that goes on the front.