Are there fire escapes in your mind palace?
The method of loci (loci being Latin for “places”) is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory, familiar information about one’s environment, to quickly and efficiently recall information. The method of loci is also known as the memory journey, memory palace, or mind palace technique.
There are many ways to organize your thoughts, record them and act on them. In this post, I will describe some of the methods that I use to keep track of dozens of concurrent projects, initiatives and ventures.
First, some background on some techniques.
GTD, or Getting Things Done.
This method was created by David Allen. It is very simple and works well for day to day activities, but requires continuous upkeep.
The idea is that as inputs come in, you do in-line sorting and actions on them. If it is actionable and will take less than 2 minutes, do it immediately. Otherwise, delegate it or defer / schedule it.
This method works well for intake and scheduling. Then you must rely heavily on accurate estimations of time for the tasks to be completed and block off your calendar to perform the actions captured.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
The Pomodoro Technique is great for creating efficiency in action. When it is time to get down to business and you want to get the most done in the shortest period of time, then this is it. However, it is difficult to do this for long periods of time without a lot of practice.
Kanban (literally signboard or billboard in Chinese and Japanese) is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing (JIT). Kanban is an inventory control system for supply chains. Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. Kanban is one method to achieve JIT.
This method allows for ingesting a large amount of inputs, and working through them in a fashion that shows progress, bottlenecks, works in progress, funnel and forecasting. It is used extensively by project management, development teams and those utilizing agile methodology. It is very useful for actioning critical issues when working in teams by either teamwork on a single item, or parallel processing.
4HWW or the 4 Hour work week was written by Tim Ferris in 2007. It is a collection of techniques and ideas to simplify the actions taken for greater overall success of initiatives and life in general.
The framework presented in the book is this:
For every project, initiative, etc, before making a commitment, we should always ask “what is the desired outcome that makes all the effort worthwhile?”
Pareto’s Rule, which suggests that 80% of output comes from 20% of input. It’s very easy to hide behind a “busy” screen, but often the things with which we are busy are, at best, unproductive and at worst, counterproductive. Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. There are three kinds of tasks that get in the way of effectiveness: “time wasters,” “time consumers,” and “empowerment failures”.
Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Things that should be automated are those that are repeatable with little customization, but require continual work. Also, if the work required to automate something is greater than the amount of work saved over a defined period of time, then it is not cost effective to automate it.
This is time allowing for personal growth. Whether it is physically, mentally, emotionally, career-wise, or through other means, it is important to take the time that is saved through the other actions to apply to growth. Another way of looking at this is using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The liberation component of DEAL would be similar to Maslow’s “Self Actualization” section of the pyramid.
A mind palace is a way of visualizing memory in three dimensional space. By using spatial memory, you are able to remember things through placement and association. If you try to remember individual facts, or items, it is easy to lose them if they are not repeatably accessed. The way that memory in the brain works is by creating multiple connection to information the more it is accessed. In the same way that parity works in storage systems, if a bit of information is lost, it can be found by following the associations of other bits to deduce the missing information.
If you lose your keys or wallet, one way to find it is to mentally retrace your steps. In a mind palace, you are creating artificial steps that associate specific things into a context that you can go back to consistently.
By creating rooms of context, you can visually place thoughts that are associated with each-other, together. This is similar to the idea of a mnemonic, where a word is remembered and every letter of that words is another word like BEDMAS (brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) in mathematics.
Sometimes, it is reversed, such as a memorable phrase that means something simpler that is harder to remember. In college, when I was studying digital circuits, we remembered the colour codes for resistors by the following phrase:
Bad beer rots our young guts, but vodka goes well.
In a mind palace, you have similar kinds of associations, but instead of phrases, you can have situations or relationships between objects that will bring up a specific context of memory interrelationships. If you forget one item, that is okay because the others you do remember will reinforce the missing one and reconnect it to the room.
Here are the steps to creating a mind palace.
1. Decide on a blueprint for your palace
2. Define a route
3. Identify specific storage locations in your palace or along your route
4. Memorize your memory palace
5. Place things to be remembered in your palace
6. Use symbols
7. Be creative
8. Stock your palace with other mnemonics
9. Explore your palace
10. Use your palace
11. Build new palaces
Magnetic Memory Method
This method takes the mind palace to the next level by layering on sensory experiences. In your mind palace, what are the sounds, smells, tastes, touch, etc. A real memory has all of these. Thats why sometimes a song, or a smell, or a feeling will jog another memory you have. Using these will allow for a greater memory density in each room of your mind palace.
Personally, I use all of these to varying degrees. I conduct day to day ingestion of things via GTD, which allows me to get the immediate small things done as they come in. Then they get placed into a kanban and scheduled for action. I can keep up with progress and prioritize based on criticality and need. Some things may get removed or simplified along the way as I use the 80/20 rule to ensure maximum effectiveness across all activities. When I get down to work, I use the pomodoro technique to ensure that maximum effectiveness is achieved in the least amount of time.
All these methods allow me to maintain a high level of performance at my job, write blogs, do podcasts, run a VMUG, write a book, and have about half a dozen personal research projects in areas such as renewable energy, blockchain, augmented reality, and alternative building technologies.