You’re very smart, but you can’t rely on your brain to keep track of all the things you need or want to do. To stay organize and on track, you must get ideas out of your head and into writing. Your brain is full of creative ideas, and some of them could get lost in there. Get them out here where you can keep track of them.
This is what David Allen calls “the mind sweep.” I call it brain dump. There are two ways to do it.
You can write down everything as you think of it. This is great for those of us with short attention spans. The very act of writing the thing down—make appointment with optometrist—relieves you of the burden of thinking about it and frees your head space for your creative work.
Alternatively, or maybe in combination, take a few minutes before you start on your creative work to just brainstorm all the things that are floating around in your head. The things you need to do, or buy, or schedule, or write. Dump them all out at once in whatever way makes the most sense to you. We’ll talk more next time about tools, but the thing you use to collect the oddments from your mind is less important than the act of sweeping them out.
Ideally, we’ll minimize the number of places we capture ideas. This makes them easier to sort out and act on. Too often, we write things on scraps of paper, backs of business cards, e-mails to ourselves, notes on our phones, and a dozen other points of record depending on our lifestyles and proclivities. It would be best if we could limit ourselves to one paper and one electronic tool, but usually we have a couple of each. But be aware that if you get beyond five collection points, it gets unmanageable.
Once you’ve swept your mind, set the list aside and focus on your creative work. Later, when you’re ready to sort, you can take your collection points—your notebooks, phone, and scraps of paper—and sort the story ideas from the action items, the things to do from the things to file. Record each item in a place that makes sense. For example, my grocery store list goes on the refrigerator, because I’m in the kitchen when I notice we’re out of something. Story ideas go in Evernote because then I can get at them from wherever I am when I’m ready to write.
So write everything down, and then sort. In Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends using a separate sheet of paper for each thing, rather than making a list. For many of us, this will be overkill, but for tactile learners, it could be an excellent practice. You might not need a whole piece of paper. Maybe index cards. Allen’s point is that having a physical thing to handle makes you more likely to deal with that item. If you later think of other information that goes with that item, if you’ve used a sheet of paper you’ll have plenty of room to add it.
Schedule to avoid forgetting
Getting things in writing is especially important for deadlines, appointments, and other commitments. Write them down immediately so you’ll remember. Don’t feel at all strange, for example, taking out your phone to add an appointment to your calendar while you’re talking about it with the person you’re scheduling with. That’s the best way to make sure you get it right, and don’t forget.
Sort your papers (or computer notes) into categories—things to do now, things to work on later, things to file for future reference, and things to delegate. Obviously this last category is not applicable to those of us who have no one to delegate to. But there are probably some things you can delegate. Maybe your spouse can pick up the kids from soccer practice. If you’re putting something off till later, note it on your calendar to do at a specific time.
I’m too intent on working paperlessly when possible to adopt Allen’s one sheet method. I prefer to track things in my computer or tablet. Computers are good for sorting and reminding, and there are plenty of apps to do these things. We’ll look at a few of them next time.