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Free Your Mental Space With Breadcrumbs

Remember the tale of Hansel and Gretal? Honestly, it’s kind of a messed-up story. It begins with a stepmother taking her stepchildren (Hansel & Gretal) out into the woods to leave them there.

Atrocious parenting decisions aside, as the children are lead away into the woods, they wisely leave a trail of breadcrumbs so that they can find their way home.

Why You Need To Leave A Trail

The reality we need to face is that we are all forgetful people. As hard as we try, we just can’t keep up with everything all the time, and something (usually many things) will eventually fall through the cracks.

Our digital age has only made this worse. We are constantly dinged, buzzed, pinged, poked, and otherwise notified by all of our various devices and apps, and our mental loads get heavier and heavier. We are exposed to more info, more quickly than any other generation ever. Our brains are easily overwhelmed and when that happens, we have to let something slide just to keep our sanity.

If we can learn to leave ourselves “a trail of breadcrumbs,” we can offload much of our mental load without falling short on our responsibilities.

Here are 3 ways you can leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs:

1- Add notes to your to-do list & calendar

Do you use an app like Reminders, Asana, or Trello to keep up with your to-do list? There are a ton of great apps or programs out there, but even those can become overwhelming if we are just filling them with items without all the details we need.

Instead, when you make a to-do item, add the links for any related resources directly into the item. Maybe you have a google doc that is related. Paste the link. Maybe you created a note on your phone. Write “check phone notes” in the item description.

You can also do this with your calendar. Most calendars have the option to write notes into each item. Scheduling a meeting with someone? Write in the notes what the meeting is about. You can even copy and paste their last email if that helps.

If I’m trying to set up an appointment, and I offer to buy coffee for someone, I might put it in my calendar as “Coffee with John (my treat),” that way I don’t have to search back through all the emails to see if I offered that or not.

2- Always set due dates

When adding something to your to-do list, always select a due date, even if it’s not really due on that day. That will cause it to pop back up in front of you on that day. If you can do it that day, great. If not, just move the due date back to the next time you want to be reminded about it.

3- Email yourself screenshots

Do you often get bombarded with text messages while you’re busy and then forget to respond to them later? What if it’s the weekend and someone asks you to do something next Wednesday? Here’s an easy way to make sure it actually happens: take a screenshot of the message (power + volume button on the latest iPhone) and quickly email it to yourself. Now, next time you check your email, it will be right there waiting for you.

Finding Our Way

It always makes me smile a little bit whenever I find a helpful note I left for myself, especially when I don’t remember leaving it. It means that I’m doing what I need to do, but I’m not spending my mental energy on remembering every single detail.

We can’t always control what gets assigned to us or what we are responsible for. But we can control how we organize those responsibilities. If we will admit to ourselves that we won’t be able to handle the mental load all the time, we can then begin to put some “breadcrumbs” in place that will help us find our way.

Thanks, Hansel.


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