Use your brain for thinking, not remembering

Some people pride themselves on their ability to remember everything they need to do. They run a mental calendar, a mental to-do list, and multiple mental project plans simultaneously. And they don’t forget stuff. They turn up, they remember where to be and when. They are confident in their ability to stay organised, keeping all the important details stored in the realms of their calm and ordered brain.

I can almost guarantee none of them are mothers.


Mothers carry all that same stuff. But they carry other people’s to-do lists too. Their project plans never end; they carry an emotional happiness plan for each child (I must remember to talk to sweetheart about bullying and mindfulness). Then there is a developmental plan for each child too (it is time she learned to swim, or drive, or cut her own toenails). They have school reports in their heads, grades, exams dates and homework schedules. Immunisations, sports practices and their friend’s allergies. Often mum runs the household too, so add the schedules and rhythms of household living on top (why are there no school uniforms clean this morning?). There is so much information. So much to remember. So much to coordinate.

And every day more gets loaded in.

And mothers gather that information in a highly distracting environment. There are frequent interruptions, mistranslations, repetitions and confusions in a mothers data-gathering mission. There is background noise, and chatter, and screens blinking.

The human brain is designed for information processing. Not remembering hoards and hoards of data. It is said the average human gathers about 34GB of data every single day just going about our business. And the brain is not supposed to memorise and process at the same time. It is just too much.


But some people try to remember everything. Why? A desperate grasp back at the days when our minds were calmer and more organised? Defiance? Stubbornness? Or just too tired to think straight? Or we take a half-hearted approach, running a to-do list, but then leaving it at home, and winging it at the supermarket (and regretting it). Or writing a list and then filing it away and forgetting about it. Or starting a fresh list every day. Again and again.


Regardless, if you are a mother, you need to write things down. Everything. And keep it in one place (i.e. a journal) then keep that with you at all times.


I am a big fan of having an online calendar, and a paper to-do list. I write everything that is going on in my life in my journal. That journal comes with me everywhere. It has all the information I need at my fingertips. And I don’t even try to remember any of it by heart.



Why do I write everything down?

  • Because memory is not reliable. I will let myself and others down if I am not organised. Then I will beat myself up. If something matters, I write it down.
  • Ideas and bursts of creativity that come to me in the shower or in the middle of the night, are usually gone within an hour. So I write them down and capture them while the thought is fresh. If it is interesting to me, I write it down.
  • The very act of writing something down uses a different part of the brain. It serves to cement that concept a little deeper in your consciousness. It is how I studied for exams when younger, and it how I stay organised now. A digital task list does not achieve the same thing.
  • When I write things down, I reduce stress. If I have too many things on my mind, my brain is not working efficiently. I download that swirling thought as I write it on paper. Instant calm.
  • Writing helps me process things. If problematic thoughts are churning, if I write them in a structured way, I get clarity. ‘Thinking on paper’ is a great way to work through a problem.
  • All of this clears your mind for higher level thinking. It creates mental space. And makes room for living and feeling.


I follow the principles of the bullet journal. Look it up, the bullet journal is well explained online. It is kind of like a cross between a diary and a planner and a journal. Don’t be overwhelmed by how pretty people make their bullet journals look. People who can write in fancy fonts and use pretty coloured pens just don’t have enough to do. Mine is not pretty. Its scribbled, crossed out, it is very lived in. But everything I need to know is in one place. I have a page for books I want to read, hotels that have been suggested to stay at, family history snippets that my Dad has told me, the exercise programme recommended by my PT. And every day there is a to-do list. It is all there, in one place. I never lose it, I always know where it is.


One of the best parts about it, is every day I sit down for 2 minutes and plan the day ahead. I only put things into my day that I need to do, want to do, and have time to do. I can see at a glance how many hours I have to spare around appointments, and I don’t write something down for the day if I clearly don’t have time for it. It is not a never ending to-do list that I cannot get on top of. Every day I tick all the boxes, then stop. Satisfied, fulfilled, organised.


In comparison a to-do list ends up huge. Everything on it, the tiny chores (buy milk) to the big projects (write that novel). Everything is mixed together. You can never get to the bottom of it. It is not clear what the priorities are. The only way you mark things urgent is to draw lots of stars next to it. And at night when you wearily sit down and ponder your list, the only emotion you feel is disappointment. And discouragement.


So come on Mums, make life easier for yourself. Get yourself into a position where you plan your day, and have control of it.

Write it down. All of it!


One Reply to “Use your brain for thinking, not remembering”

  1. I have tried to keep a Bullet journal as well but was probably too focused on making it look pretty and all the pens! 😉 But I will take your advice to have a “lived in” journal. It is way better than fifty million pieces of paper I have lying around.


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