Empty your brain: the key to productivity
This post was first published on September 24, 2008.
Reader Alyssa asks, “I’m wondering – are you still going to do, or have you done the GTD for Home Managers? I’m sooo interested in that!”
Thanks for asking, Alyssa. My short answer – No, I haven’t “done” the GTD for Home Managers yet. It’s still very much on my radar, and I’m still mulling over ideas and thoughts. I love the idea, and I feel like it needs to be done, if not by me, then by someone.
Some of you might be wondering – what is GTD? If you Google it, you’ll see that there’s quite a pseudo-cult following on the idea, even though GTD simply stands for “Getting Things Done.” Coined by David Allen, his system of productivity spawned a whole generation of people embracing the idea of sticking with a simple system to – well, Get Things Done.
While I like a lot of his original ideas, as well as the many mutations of GTD that have since been created online, none of them are perfect and THE go-to for making your life productive — especially for home managers.
The foundation for GTD is something I happen to agree with. And the idea is just as important for home managers as it is for Fortune 500 CEOs.
Write it down.
Write everything down. Get it out of your brain and on to someplace else. Whatever “it” is that’s on your mind — your to-do list, the chocolate chip recipe you just concocted, your need to call your husband and ask him to pick up milk on the way home — everything. Leave nothing in your brain. Don’t make your brain the holding place for all those bits and pieces hovering around your day.
How often have you said to yourself, “I don’t need to jot down a reminder; I’ll remember this.” And then how often have you forgotten that very thing?
Yeah, me too.
Forgetfulness is one of the main reasons you need to write stuff down. Other reasons are:
- You’re more stressed when your brain is thinking about a thousand little things.
- You’re not able to fully concentrate on the task at hand.
- You overcommit, because you can’t clearly see what’s on your plate.
- You don’t have true, relaxing downtime because you hold on to that nagging feeling that you should always be doing something else – but you’re not sure what.
So for me, the cornerstone to even hoping for a productive day is to write everything down, and to leave nothing in my brain (ha).
What Does This Look Like?
To simply start a basic GTD pattern at home, you need to grab yourself a blank something — a piece of paper, a white board, a new text document on your computer, something. I prefer paper because I like to doodle my thoughts in a more haphazard manner a la Todoodlist.
Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman
Then, jot down every. little. thing. on your mind. Everything. Don’t worry about making sense of it or putting things in order just yet – simply transfer it from your brain to paper. Don’t hold on to any of it – your body will physically react to it (stress, fatigue, not concentrating), and your soul will react emotionally (stress, frustration at innocent people, bitterness from having too much on your plate).
When you start seeing everything that’s been on your mind, it won’t take long for you to start seeing patterns, to begin making order of your agenda, or to simply file away ideas that you’ve held on to needlessly.
How It Works for Me
When I first started writing everything down, there was a lot to scribble down. I was floored with how much I let stay in my brain. But since I’ve made it more of a regular routine in my life, doing this is not nearly as overwhelming.
Each morning, I expel everything from my brain to paper. I do this on the bottom half of my Daily Docket using the Todoodlist method.
From there, I start visually connecting the dots, and make my day’s to-do list on the Docket.
If there’s anything I need to remember while I’m on the computer (blog management, checking bank accounts, or browsing for a book I need, for example), I add it to a simple notepad widget on my iGoogle page.
If something involves a date, I add it to our family calendar, which I keep in Google Calendar.
Throughout the day, as I think of more things, I add it to my blank space on my Daily Docket as quickly as possible.
Designate One Place
The most important part of writing everything down is to do it all in one place. If you have a separate sheet for your work to-do list, a different one relating to each family member, and another one for family finances, that’s too much. You’re still adding stuff to your brain — keeping track of all of these papers and remembering where they go. When you take the first step of emptying your brain, it needs to be all in one place. You can then organize from there, if you want.
Some people have a basic notepad or journal dedicated solely to their brain-emptying, and not using it for anything else. That’s a pretty good idea, especially if you feel overwhelmed at first with how much you’ve been holding on to.
So, Alyssa, to get back to your question – even though I haven’t yet developed a GTD for Home Managers just yet, if I were to, this is where I’d start. Having you write down every last thing that’s on your mind, so that you don’t have to cart it with you wherever you take your brain. Allow your brain cells to retain something else.
Do you make a habit of writing everything down? Has it helped? If you’ve never done this before, I recommend taking five minutes right now and starting, just to see how it feels. Then comment below on how it felt to you.
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