Manage Low Contrast Information

Most people need to mentally access a multitude of information throughout the day—for example, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, appointment dates, and items to be purchased before the weekend. This is what I call low-contrast information because it's inherently indistinct: most telephone numbers consist of a ten-digit sequence; all appointments are pegged to date, month, and year; and so on. The human brain was not particularly well designed to lug around all of this low-contrast information in an easily accessible manner, which is why in 1993, the personal digital assistant (PDA) came to be.

With the advent of the PDA, time-honored organizational tools, including the address book, desk calendar, note pad, and todo list, morphed into a single, compact, portable device. PDAs allow the user to enter recurring events, such as monthly staff meetings or your nephew's birthday each year. You can link contact data to appointments, organize time-sensitive to-do lists, and 172 take paperless notes. You can even synchronize your PDA with a computer database so that you can enter information at your keyboard and have a backup of all of your data. Many PDAs have wireless Internet capability, and most can be programmed to emit a sound to cue you to do something at a designated time.

I am a huge fan of the PDA because of its compact portability, programmability, and interactive features. Before you conclude that I own stock in one of the PDA manufacturers (I don't), let me say that the old-fashioned pen-and-paper method can also be effective for helping you remember everyday details. Whichever of these tools you select, high-tech or low-tech, the key is utilizing it consistently to record and organize your daily flow of low-contrast information.

Meetings and Appointments. Record your appointments and important dates in your PDA or pocket calendar and keep it with you at all times. If you don't use a PDA, use a notebook-style weekly calendar that has paper for writing down important information. Check in with your PDA or appointment book at regular times during the day, perhaps after each meal.

Daily Tasks. In addition to noting your appointments, keep a list of the miscellaneous things that you have to do each day or week: people to call, items you need to purchase, routine maintenance on your car or home, and so on. Keep these to-do lists in your PDA or notebook, and check them at regular intervals or at least at the start and end of each day.

Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers. Keep your address book up to date with complete contact information for friends, family, and professionals or companies with whom you do business. All PDAs contain an address book function. If there is something specific that you want to remember about a particular person (for example, the names of his or her children), note this within your contact information. If you haven't seen or spoken with the person in a long time, referring to your note can serve as a cue to help sharpen your memory for important personal details. ,173

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