On some days, our minds are super busy, and we have many thoughts and to-do’s floating around.
“I should buy some lemons.”
“Oh, I should also call my dentist.”
“Also, I should make a reservation for dinner.”
These thoughts all feel important because they are things we want to or have to do. “I shouldn’t forget to make a reservation!” Each thought comes with a sense of urgency, so we can’t afford to forget it.
This roller coaster is quite exhausting. What’s more, it keeps our mind occupied, so there’s less capacity for interesting, creative, or productive thoughts.
A great solution comes from the Getting Things Done method by David Allen (you can read my blog post about it here). This solution is to keep an Inbox where you dump all such thoughts. The Inbox can be a notebook, a text document, or an app on your phone. It doesn’t matter what it actually is as long as:
- It reliably keeps your info (e.g., it’s not an app with bugs that loses certain entries, and it’s not a bunch of post-it notes that can easily get lost around the house);
- It is easy for you to browse, so you can see what you’ve written down (e.g., it’s not a huge, messy notebook where your to-do’s get lost, and it’s not an app that’s organized in a way you don’t understand, making it difficult to find your entries);
- It is always on hand for you (i.e., it’s not helpful if you left your notebook at work, and then at home you don’t have a place to write down the to-do’s that come to mind.
For me, it is convenient to use an app for this. I use Wunderlist or Trello, depending on what the to-do is about. I have both apps on my phone and on all my devices, so it’s easy to jot something down. (See this blog post for an extensive description of the tools I use.)
The surprising power of writing things down
One participant in my bootcamp course on organization and time management, Angela, said the Inbox method was immensely helpful for her. She used to try to remember everything she needed to do, inevitably ending up overwhelmed and forgetting something.
“Since I’ve started writing down all my tasks, I feel like I’ve freed up so much mental space,” Angela shared. “A lot of the anxiety is gone because I know that if I need to do something, I won’t forget it–it’s on my list!”
Angela’s enthusiasm about this discovery caught me by surprise. It’s such a simple thing to do that I’d forgotten its power. I must have been doing this for almost 10 years already, since I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done for the first time.
I remembered the relief and decreased anxiety I had experienced back then when I discovered this simple way of dealing with the ever-present thoughts about endless to-do’s. It really is so simple: Write it down. Get it out of your head. The simplest things often are the most powerful.