Dealing With Your Inner Absent-Minded Professor

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(Not really part of my I² series, partly because today’s the wrong day of the week, and partly because I don’t yet know enough about the topic to consider the advice below all that innovative or inspirational. But some of you may find it comforting.)

You know who I’m talking about.

That little person inside that defines forgetful and scatter-brained. The one that gleefully guffaws when he makes you forget where you put your keys (did I leave them in the bowl?), your to-do list (who am I supposed to call, again?), or the purpose of your current task (why did I drive here?).

He took over normal Peter several times this week, and I’m frustrated with him.

Saturday it was putting on my remaining Scottevest (the first the Prof left in a bar), to discover my missing favorite pocketknife was in the right pocket (and I’m reasonably sure another pocket now holds my missing pens and pocket protector).

Earlier this week it was on my morning commute, when he made me forget my exit was coming up until I was 1/4 mile away and still 3 lanes to the left (why nobody honked I have not a clue).

Another time it was the proverbial something on my grocery list (bread is kind of important for making a tuna sandwich).

Yesterday it was my phone during dinner. I’m enjoying my burrito and Freakanomics, and go to look something up, but the phone was still in the car door pocket (and now I can’t remember what I wanted to look up).

But this morning took the cake. It was the phone again, only worse. I got a whole mile from home before realizing. Drove back, went to the charger, and it wasn’t there! Checked next to the throne, then the sink before realizing I put it in my PJs pocket. Not there either!  (Of how it got under the comforter, I have no recollection.)

That’s the first-half of the comforting bit. You’re not alone; there are others out here as flakey as you.

How do you reduce how frequently the Prof takes over?

Sleep more. This I know empirically, although I bet there is research to back me up.

How do you stop it entirely? You don’t really want to, IMHO.

I have yet to search the literature for this concept, but I’ll bet it’s there and fascinating. You know from reading the Wikipedia article that many brilliant (read: innovative or creative) minds have suffered from this affliction.

So embrace the Prof, and use him to your advantage.

In the introduction to Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug brags that he has the gift of forgetting his experiences visiting web sites, and that this allows him to continually interact with his own designs as if he was visiting the site for the first time. He says this makes him a better web designer, and I believe him.

I expect the research, if any exists, will show that one of the ways in which forgetfulness aids creativity is that it forces you to retrace your steps (literally and figuratively) and expand your search—geographically, spatially, temporarily, and methodically. The simple act of having to look at something in a different way or light, and of how the Prof’s mind flits from one topic to another, I believe, is essential to creativity. It is one of the primary ways we find new connections.

More down the road once I have found and digested the relevant research.

But for now, I will embrace my inner Prof, and worry less about forgetting the little things.

(Except for the phone; I leave it behind way too much, and detest the way it makes me feel insecure and defenseless, not being entirely sure where I left it or if it’s been stolen.)

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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