I spend a good deal of time around here talking about productivity. This is because I spend a good deal of my time elsewhere trying to figure out how to optimize my productivity.
Optimizing productivity is one way to help optimize your life. If you can be more productive during your working hours, you can make more money and save more time that you can spend on other endeavors or with your family and friends.
The key to all of my productivity hacks and tricks all centers on one cornerstone:
Write. Everything. Down.
This may seem overly simplistic or obvious, but don’t underestimate it!
I read Getting Things Done by David Allen when I was in college. My only real takeaway from the book was the importance of writing things down and getting them out of your head.
Because this was before the age of smart phones, I bought some tiny notebooks and kept one in my pocket at all times.
If I told someone that I would do something for them, it went into the notebook. If I thought of a task that I needed (or wanted) to do, it went into the notebook. If a stray lyric or idea popped into my head that might work well in a song, it went into the notebook.
I soon added a Word document on my laptop for these notes. At the end of the day, everything from the little notebook got transcribed into my Word doc. Once there, I could cut and paste and move everything around for better organization.
Over time, my organizational structure within the Word doc became more and more customized. Short term tasks went in one section. Long term tasks went in another. Creative ideas got moved into an entirely separate document.
In the decade since, the means have changed a bit, but the structure remains the same.
Instead of carrying around little notepads, I have a notepad app on my phone.
The Word doc moved to Google Docs and then moved again to Evernote.
The document has split into a “this week” list, a longer term list, and a deadlines list.
But through it all, the most important thing has remained:
Write. Everything. Down.
When faced with the idea of writing things down, it is easy to say “Oh, I’ll remember this.” And maybe you will! But why bother?
Computers remember better than we do. Hell, paper remembers better than we do. Why not outsource this task? Then you can dedicate your mental capacities towards problem solving and other areas where you are more adept than a computer.
Plus, if you really want the benefit of the system, you need to actually write everything down. If you decide to remember some things yourself and write other things down, then you won’t get much mental rest.
One of the benefits of having a system in which you write everything down is that you make it so automatic that you trust the system. If you trust the system, then you don’t need to second-guess yourself. You don’t need to wonder if you are forgetting something. You don’t need to feel that nagging anxiety that there is something you should be remembering. This has been the most noticeable benefit to me in writing everything down.
On top of all of this, trying to remember things triggers the Zeigarnik Effect. Essentially, your brain is continuously running the unfinished task of remembering something in the background as you go about your day. This limits your focus on other tasks and makes you more distractible.
Writing it down will get it out of your head and tell your brain that it can let go. This will free you up to give your full focus and attention to whatever needs to be done.
All of these combine to make writing everything down the number one productivity tip I could possibly convey.
You’ve heard my system. What’s yours? Do you write everything down? Do you use a different organizational structure? Talk to us in the comments!