Increasing Your Productivity By Writing Things Down

After having high school teachers and parents continually reminding me to get assignments in on time, my college undergraduate years were a rude awakening. Initially, I missed deadlines for assignments until I learned to budge my time and make sure everything was in my calendar. 

Decades later, David Allen wrote “Getting Things Done,” seen by many to be the ultimate book on productivity.  It was a book that I wished was it available to me much earlier as it changed my workflow. 

One of Allen’s main points is that every idea you have and everything you need to do should be written down. “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” Allen writes.  It’s like saving your pictures on your computer’s hard drive rather than having it consume your active memory. 

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” 

– David Allen

While I don’t follow every element of Allen’s GTD advice without adaptation, this is one precept that has proven invaluable to my productivity. 

If I have an idea or think of something that I need to do, I write it down right away. If I have my iPhone with me, I will send myself an email. If I am driving, I will use Siri. I have notepads and notepads throughout my home and office. I even have a small notepad in my wallet. So if I am talking someone, I can write a note rather than appearing rude by dictating my reminder. I do know that I can’t trust my brain to remember it all. 

Allen refers to this step as “capturing.”

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Researchers Ronald Davis and Yi Zhong explain our inability to remember everything noting that the brain processes a lot of information but is also efficient at disposing of what it doesn’t feel it needs. In Neuron, they wrote, “Because of the extraordinarily large number of memory engrams that can accumulate in the brain across time, it seems logical that the brain must have … mechanisms to remove memories that become unused,”

What do I write down?  I write down anything that I need to do or promise to do. I write down interesting ideas and quotes I hear. When I get an idea that I may want to research or 

A question that intrigues me is captured. 

Another interesting concept regarding capturing is how you get started. Allen recommends what I call a brain dump.  I remember the day I sat down with a blank legal pad and started to write down almost everything that came to it. I don’t. Much of it was work-related, but it also included personal, items including Christmas gift ideas and random things I remembered about projects. Once I broke the dam, it was amazing how fast the ideas started to flow.  I periodically repeat that exercise. 

By now, I have the capture habit ingrained in my daily life. I find by doing this, I have less stress and fear that I’ve forgotten something. 

My takeaway is that I have to remember not to attempt to use my brain as a notebook and maintain a workable system for processing what I write down. 

In future posts, I will share some of my ideas for processing the information I write down and store. I also plan to share other productivity tips that are grounded in “GTD” but tested and adapted by me over several decades. 

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