TBI: Avoid the Rabbit Trails!


Rabbit Trails

By John Hatten, Rehabilitation Counselor, TBI Survivor

There’s lots of things we can do to increase our focus (which is very commonly affected by TBI). One of these things is to avoid distractions. I’m working hard on this now: I have scheduled this time to write for the blog, and it’s working pretty well. The one thing I find that I need to avoid is “rabbit trails”. I’m sure you know what I mean: you’re getting ready to do something you want to do, or you’ve started doing that activity, and then a thought comes into your mind — you change your focus and start working on that … until another thought comes in and you start on that. And you find out that the time you wanted to spend on the first topic is gone and you really have nothing to show for your time. You’re like a rabbit scurrying up a hillside.

Let’s talk about this. Before your TBI, you didn’t have much, or any, problem with this. If an idea came by while you were working on something else, you would just “file” that idea in your head and get to it later. Now? Well, it’s not that easy. I know that I will lose that thought in just a few seconds, so what do I do?

The answer to that question is that you need some sort of system to get that stray thought down so that you’ll have it later. Now I’ve tried just about every kind of notation system or device out there, and I hope I have one below that will work for you.

What I’m using now is the “Thought Catcher” feature on PEAT, the Planning and Execution Assistant and Trainer (www.brainaid.com). I think PEAT is a wonderful Android phone app that has allowed me to do as much as I do. I have written on PEAT before. In a nutshell, I plan a time every day when I retrieve my notes (usually a handwritten short note, although it could be a voice recording or a picture I’ve taken) from the “Thought Catcher” and I put them into PEAT, as Tasks or To-Do’s.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t or don’t want to use PEAT, there are other ways to make a quick reminder for yourself. You can keep a little pocket notebook where you write them down. But remember that writing a reminder down is only a third of the job: you’ve also got to put that thought somewhere you can see it later and then act on that note. That’s the hard part: organizing yourself so that things don’t “fall through the cracks” and so you aren’t following those rabbit trails.

Another idea is a voice recorder. If you have any kind of smart phone, you have voice recording, and if you don’t have a smart cell phone, you can still call yourself and leave a message. Of course, you still need to retrieve the recording and then make it “actionable”: you’ve got to put it somewhere so that you can act on it later.

A third way is to tell someone else: use them to remind you. While this way is easy, it has problems. The person has to be around you when you have a thought, they’re likely to get tired of being your “memory”, and they can forget too. Independence-wise, this isn’t the best option, but then, your mileage may vary.

Like I said earlier, I’ve used all these strategies: right now I think PEAT is far and away the best.


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