The past year has been a difficult time for me, personally. In fact, it’s been so difficult that I feel like I’ve got a case of good ole fashioned Mom Brain that just won’t go away. I won’t go into too many details, but grief is something that I haven’t yet been able to control. It manifests itself in one form or another from time to time. Predictably, my performance at work has taken a beating. However, as a result of some tactical fixes, I’ve been able to reduce the negative effects these issues that arise when I get distracted.

If you feel like your brain is betraying your desire to succeed, here are some tools have helped (and continue to help) me remedy my focus:

Volt Planner
Volt Planner

Tool #1 – A good paper planner: A good paper planner helps me set weekly and monthly objectives. It doesn’t have to be much, but it helps keep you on track to achieving your objectives and making things you are doing what you need to do. Btw, if you’re having a really tough time personally like me, your objectives and goals don’t have to be career aspirations and other ways to grow. My goals were merely there to help me try to maintain the status quo of my life. Examples of things I have put on there including various daily milestones for projects I am working on, doing one Pomodoro of house work, some administrative task or two that I hate doing, etc. Note that the planner isn’t very useful for calendar items – that’s what your calendar app on your phone is for. The planner also not for micro-level todo lists; that’s one of the uses of the log (described below). The planner is also useful for going over just before your morning scrum to state what you completed yesterday and what you intend to complete today. The one that I use is the Volt Planner.

Leuchtterm1917 Master Slim Ruled
Leuchtterm1917 Master Slim Ruled

Tool #2 – A good paper logbook: A good logbook helps me serialize my thoughts enough to complete complex tasks and investigations on how to solve a problem. I can write down things I’m trying, things that worked, things that didn’t work. I can go back through my notes as I try to remember what some highly complicated piece of legacy code does. They are also useful for large and intricate todo lists that can involve several different tasks happening concurrently. Another useful aspect of logbooks is to act as a reference for things that you need to know but will forget unless you write it down. My logbook of preference is the Leuchtterm1917 Master Slim Ruled. It’s big enough to write and draw what I need, slim enough to be relatively light, and has a hard cover to write on it without support.

Ink and Volt Meeting Notes
Ink and Volt Meeting Notes

Tool #3 – A good notebook for meetings: If you’re like me, you dislike meetings. Sitting still for an extended period while listening to other people talk feels tedious. Boredom sets in and your attention wanes. Nonetheless, you need to pay attention. Important decisions have to be made and at the very least, you need to follow along. A relatively small book to take notes (and perhaps doodle a little) is useful to retain knowledge of important facts. It’s also useful to write down a question you want to ask (or make a general comment) when somebody else is talking and you don’t want to interrupt them. For me personally, I like the Ink and Volt Meeting Notes. It’s relatively small, certainly less obtrusive than a full sized logbook, and is well suited to bring to a meeting and write down what information you need to retain, and what action items you need to take later.

Of course, these low tech items beg the question: Why not use electronic means? You can search what you write, it can be backed up trivially. The question is valid, and there is merit to using OneNote or Evernote. But for me, personally, the act of writing on paper helps me retain the information better than typing. Moreover, information on paper can be recorded faster. Diagrams are faster to draw. Lines are easier to connect text. Some basically note taking organization can get you largely to a searchable logbook.

Anyways, for me these tools help to stay on track even when I don’t feel up to it. I hope they can help you as well.

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