The Mental Diary

The easiest way to honour appointments is by writing them down in a diary, but there will always be occasions when you have left it behind, or it is not mm practical to carry one around with you. Large yearly planners can be particularly cumbersome, and even the latest in electronic personal organizers can occasionally go on the blink:

In this chapter, I want to introduce you to an alternative way of remembering appointments: the mental diary. Sadly, our dependence on wall planners, desk charts, and pocket diaries has resulted in a steady decline in our ability to commit dates and meetings to memory. And as I have said all along, if you don't exercise the brain like a muscle, it grows weak. The Japanese, despite their fondness for electronic gadgetry, tend to rely on their memories, and many of them do away with diaries altogether. Remember, the more you exercise the brain, the fitter it becomes.

REMEMBERING APPOINTMENTS

The attraction of flashy year planners is that you can tell at a glance what lies ahead. The forthcoming two months arc usually a maze of colour-coded dots, thinning out into one or two important fixtures later on in the year.

A mental diary works on the same principle. By using a journey with 31 stages, you can also tell, at a glance, what treats lie in store. And if you want to look forward to the following month, simply add another route.

THE METHOD

Each stage of the journey represents a day of the month, and appointments are placed at the corresponding stages. Let's suppose you have an appointment with the doctors on 3rd January, for example. You simply go to the third stage, where your appointment is represented by a key image. Imagine your doctor standing there in a white coat, for example, with a stethoscope around his or her neck.

THE JOURNEY

On top of a hill in Surrey, there is an old brick folly. As a young boy, I used to climb up its precarious steps, ignoring all thoughts of my own safety, and stand proudly on the top. From there I had a good view of two villages below me. To the east lay the village of Wonersh, to the west, Bramley. It was the perfect lookout post. I could clearly make out individual roads, rivers, and people in both villages.

Today, I use this panoramic setting for all my appointments. The journey from the tower to Bramley covers all my engagements in the month ahead; the journey to Wonersh is for the second month ahead. Below, I have given you the journey to Bramley, together with a typical month of appointments.

ONE-MONTH PLANNER

stage

journey to bramley

date

January appointments

1

Tower

1

2

Bushes

2

3

Well

3

Doctor's

4

Secret tunnel

4

5

Fence

5

Golf lesson

6

Gardens

6

7

Driveway

7

Wedding (Steve and Caroline)

8

Stables

8

9

Stile

9

Board meeting (head office)

10

Steep path

10

Hairdressers

11

Steps

11

12

Road

12

Bank manager

13

Bomb shelter

13

14

Barn

14

15

Riverbank

15

Dinner party

16

Bridge (on top)

16

Collect Toby, Heathrow (0900 houre)

17

Jetty

17

Accountant

18

Boat

18

Jane's 40th Birthday (card)

19

Weeping willow

19

Dentist (1100 hours) Golf lesson (1700 hours)

20

Back garden

20

Squash

21

Back door

21

22

Bridge (under)

22

23

Cricket pitch

23

School play

24

Pavilion

24

25

Golf club

25

26

Bus stop

26

28 Hotel

27 Chiropodist

28 Car insurance due

29 Mini-roundabout

30 Restaurant

31 Library

REVIEWING THE DIARY

If I 'stand' on my folly, I notice immediately that there is considerable activity down by the river. I must have a lot of engagements that week. Similarly, I can see that the beginning of die month is pleasandy quiet - a solitary doctor standing by the well and my golf tutor over by the fence.

The advantage of both routes is that I can see all the stages from the same vantage point, enabling me to spot in an instant the congested areas - busy days or weeks, in other words.

The stages themselves are carefully chosen; it is important to use open spaces and outside features such as bridges, roads, and rivers, from where you can see plenty of days ahead. I have also ensured that the distance between each stage remains constant. This makes it easier to spot congestion.

It's up to you how often you choose to review your diary. I look at mine once a day, first thing each morning. I stand at the relevant stage and survey what lies ahead. As the days pass, I move further along the journey.

Occasionally, I return to my folly for an overview and glance at the whole month. I also keep an eye on Wonersh. The second journey (February) will naturally begin to fill up as the first month comes to an end. I try to add images the moment I fix another appointment. You can't blame your mental diary if you've forgotten to 'write' an appointment down.

Between them, the two journeys cover the whole year, taking alternate months. As February passes, and I make my way towards Wonersh, the journey to Bramley will start to fill up, this time with March's events. I am using the video again, erasing the old images as I record new ones. As March passes, the journey to Wonersh will fill up with April's appointments. And so on.

If you are extremely busy and need to confirm dates three months ahead, simply use a third route and rotate between the three of them.

My two journeys bring back happy childhood memories of charging around the Surrey countryside, exploring deserted pill boxes, climbing trees, catching fish. If you are going to use a mental diary regularly, it is essential that the journey itself is a pleasant experience. There is little to be gained by throwing yourself into a deep depression every morning.

Remember, too, that your journey must be completely deserted as you map it out in your head; this will ensure that the images stand out clearly when you come to populate the stages. And try to reinforce certain key stages throughout the month, like the 5th, or 11th or 26th; this will help you to find dates more quickly. (Once again, my 11 th stage involves stairs.) The next time someone

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN JOURNEY

asks if you are free on a certain day, you will be able to tell them in an instant, instead of fumbling around and muttering, Til have to check my diary.'

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