Going on a learning journey? Don’t lose your mental luggage!

Hopefully, it’s never happened to you.

It’s the last thing anyone wants to deal with after a long airplane ride. Your flight has arrived safely, and the only thing standing between you and your loved ones – and maybe a hot meal – is a quick stop at the airport baggage claim.

You schlep your carry-on luggage down the escalator, and stand bleary-eyed with the rest of the herd, almost in a daze … until finally the baggage carousel starts moving. There, any minute now …

Minutes go by. You’re still looking on as the baggage carousel goes round and round. This can’t be happening.

At first, you suppose you must have missed it. But one by one, the claiming crowd around you disperses, until finally you are the last passenger left unrewarded by the Baggage Gods, and the horrible reality now stares you in the face … your bag is missing.

Thankfully, in recent years incidents like this are at an all-time low. For over five years, fewer than four bags per thousand bags checked on domestic flights have been lost, or 0.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Unless you travel often, it is statistically unlikely to have happened to you.

Yet, there’s a far more insidious kind of “lost luggage.”

Mental luggage: More valuable than what’s in a suitcase

This “lost luggage” is one’s mental luggage. Mental luggage, as we’ll call it for this discussion, is the accumulated learning one gains while travelling. Of particular concern for this article is business travel to conferences, such as CommunityLIVE.

Mental luggage is essentially impossible to track. Still, I’d wager that of the estimated 40 million people in the U.S. who attend conferences, trade shows, or conventions each year, 40 million of those people have been affected and lost plenty of mental luggage throughout their learning journeys.

Insights gained, innovations formed, plans lost. They disappear like so many cellophane peanut packages in the travelogue of time.

3 tips

Losing some mental luggage is unavoidable. But there are ways of limiting this loss and steps we can take to help prevent us from catastrophically forgetting our next big idea.

Here are three tips to help you stop the loss of significant mental luggage:

1. Take notes

Well, yes. Let’s get the most obvious answer out of the way.

The problem with notes isn’t that people don’t know to take them. The problem is that we often don’t take notes effectively. Often note-taking goes one of two directions:

  1. Too few notes: We write so little that by the time you go back and review your notes a week or two later, what little you’ve written becomes meaningless.

To improve as a minimalist note taker, focus your efforts on tracking key insights or new things you’ve learned.

2. Too many notes: We try and write so many notes that it becomes less an exercise in note taking and more like dictation. The problem with this is you end up writing everything and absorbing next to nothing.

To listen more and absorb more, focus less on the note-taking itself. Try to form your notes in your own words, or in a way that you might explain it to someone else.

You can find more tips at http://www.wikihow.com/Take-Better-Notes.

2. Bring a buddy

If you can find the budget or convince your higher-ups that paired learning works better than learning solo, great! If not, don’t worry. “Bringing a buddy” does not literally mean you need to physically have someone you know next to you.

Bringing a buddy means that after a course or class, you’ll spend some concentrated time with another person parsing the information you just learned. This can be accomplished in three ways:

  • Pair up with a fellow employee – on site at the conference, or back in the office – and chat about how you can apply what you just learned to benefit your organization.
  • Network. Ask someone sitting near you to review the information you just learned, or how they are looking to apply it.
  • Explain what you’ve just learned to a spouse, partner,, friend, etc. Doing so will help you to explain the information in your own words, at a high level, and will certainly help your understanding. Bonus points if you are in a different line of work than them – you might gain some unique perspectives!

3. Share what you’ve learned

This is a bit like bringing a buddy, but on a much larger scale. It also requires some planning ahead.

Before you leave for your conference, schedule a post-conference meeting with some colleagues at your organization. The more, the merrier. The purpose of this meeting will be to share your experiences, key insights from what you’ve learned, and how coworkers can use that knowledge to benefit your organization.

This could be the most drastic of all measures, but it may also be the most effective. Attending a conference with the knowledge of having a deliverable presentation afterwards will help you listen better, ask more questions, and talk to others with more purpose. You’ll want to make sure you understand more, knowing that others are counting on you, your comprehension, and your ability to explain.

Packing for your next learning trip

If you’ve lost some mental luggage in the past, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to prevent being a victim to this history repeating itself.

Take these steps and you won’t be stuck on your return, holding a conference badge with little else to show for it. Stride off the plane with confidence, knowing your mental baggage is safe and well cared for.


Mike Current started at Hyland in 2010 as a technical support rep and cloud engineer for Global Cloud Services. He is currently an Infrastructure Admin in Quality Assurance. Mike tests configuration, runs projects such as Release Candidate and the OnBase 16 Beta Program, manages the “Mitigating Risk in OnBase Upgrades” whitepaper and evangelizes synchronous and incremental parallel upgrades.

Outside of OnBase, Mike loves spending time with his family, working out and playing Xbox. He can often be found sipping a whisky and talking about geeky things while watching a Patriots football or Cleveland Cavaliers game.
Mike Current

Mike Current

Mike Current started at Hyland in 2010 as a technical support rep and cloud engineer for Global Cloud Services. He is currently an Infrastructure Admin in Quality Assurance. Mike tests... read more about: Mike Current