The multipotentialite mind is always whirring: coming up with ideas, planning new projects, solving problems or learning new skills, and all that activity requires plenty of room to think. It’s quite normal for us to feel as though we’re running out of headspace. A feeling which is not unsurprising, when you discover how little the average working memory can cope with at any one time.
I’m talking of course about “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”, or Miller’s Law, as it’s sometimes known. This was the research in the 1950’s by psychologist George Miller of Princeton University, which demonstrated the number of items an average human can hold in working memory is 7 (± 2).
You can hold just 7 items in your brain. In all seriousness, is that really enough space for a multipotentialite mind?
We can assume, for example, that at least 3 of those memory units are taken up with household chores, like needing to get some milk, pay the phone bill and do the laundry. Then, when you add in some social life, like remembering to meet friends for lunch, take the kids to their playdate and your promise to phone your mum tonight, there’s next to nothing left of your working memory for anything else.
Let’s say, as a very conservative estimate, that you currently have 4 projects on the go. You’d have less than half a memory unit left for each of them. Is it any wonder our minds feel so full?
This experience seems to be extremely common: I frequently hear people talking about their mind feeling “too cluttered” or that they’re verging on overwhelm.
I’ve been working for a while on my own solution to this dilemma and would like to share one of the techniques I’ve been using to free up more of that all important thinking space.
This is the best way I’ve found to gain some immediate relief from an overly cluttered mind. It’s about trying to capture all the thoughts, ideas and to-do tasks which are flying about and filling up valuable space in your short term memory.
It quite literally involves writing down your stream of consciousness. Ignore the need for spelling, grammar, punctuation or putting the thoughts into any kind of order. None of that’s as important as getting a clear record of everything whirring through your mind.
Once you’ve a comprehensive record of all those thought and ideas, you should find they stop being the ‘noise’ that’s getting in your way, and you can start working with to become important and useful information again.
One of a multipotentialite’s greatest anxieties must surely be the fear we’ll forget something important, or worse, totally ‘lose’ one of our projects altogether.
This step is about finding the appropriate storage mechanism for you. You want to feel reassured that you don’t have to carry everything around in your head, something that can be achieved when you know all your info is safely stored, and available to access whenever you like.
There is no right or wrong system to choose, it’s genuinely down to personal preference. I like to use spreadsheets as they’re simple, flexible and easily adapted to my changing needs. (They’re not just for numbers you know!) Other folk prefer to use databases or note-recording software such as Evernote or Springpad. Go with whatever feels right for you.
When deciding which option to choose, it’s worth considering how and when you’ll want to access your notes:
- Only from a PC/laptop or also from your smartphone?
- Will you mainly capture text or do you also need web page or image capture?
- Does it need to sync with other software you’re already using?
If you’re not sure which system you’d prefer, a good interim solution could be a spreadsheet, as most note storage software will allow you to import data in this format.
Remember that stream of consciousness you recorded? Much of it probably came out all jumbled up so now’s the time to start putting it into some kind of order.
Start by choosing the main categories into which you can file all those thoughts. I find, roughly speaking, that mine fall into three main types: living, business and projects. ‘Living’ includes things like household chores and social activities, whilst ‘business’ includes developing and running my freelance work, and ‘projects’ is for all of my different interests.
Don’t worry if all the thoughts you noted down don’t neatly fit into one category. There’s often a lot of overlap between categories and you can easily move items back and forth between them as needed.
At this point you should have succeeded in de-cluttering your mind and offering yourself some reassurance that all that important info is safe. Now you can turn your attention to refining your system to get the most out of it.
Look at creating sub-categories, as well as links between categories, so you can find all the info you need quickly and easily. You may also decide to add multiple sub-categories which will help with cross-referencing between your various projects, themes and interests.
If you’re using a spreadsheet you can add as many columns as required to ‘badge’ your info, and similarly if you’re you’re using note-recording software, try adding tags and links.
The full system
Once you’ve captured those thoughts, decided on a storage system and done your first sifting into categories, you’ve got the basis of a working system in place. This is a living breathing system that you can continue to tweak and adapt as you use it.
It may take a little time and effort to get it up and running, but I’ve found this initial input is far outweighed by having a purpose-built, customisable resource, added to also having plenty more room to think.
Do you ever feel your mind is too cluttered to think clearly? What systems or techniques do you use to free up more thinking room?