Organise Your Thoughts by Writing Things Down

The notebook, a simple tool that you can use to organise your thoughts and writing things down.

You might already have gotten into the habit of writing things down and have discovered how helpful it can be. I actually have just started writing things down a few months ago.

Before I found out how useful jotting things down was, I used to think that scribbling reminders in a notebook or agenda was best suited for older adults or my overly organised fellow classmates.

“Why should I take the effort to write this down if I can just remember it?” I would think to myself. I thought my brain was capable of absorbing all the information it had to. I occasionally forgot to do something but for the most part I did fine without a to-do list or a notebook.

The main reason why I started writing things down is because of minimalism, mental minimalism to be more exact. Here is the reasoning of the international best-selling author of Getting Things Done, David Allen. According to him, uncompleted tasks will take up mental space. He calls these “open loops”. The more loops you have open, the more you will struggle with being efficient because part of your mental real-estate is being taken up by reminders of things that have to get done.

So by writing things down, you transfer these open loops (which essentially is just mental clutter) on to paper or on your favorite device, just as you would transfer files on your external hard drive to lighten the load for your computer’s hard drive. This frees up mental space which allows you to focus a little better. In the age of distractions, I think focus is something most of us can all use a little of.

Having recently started writing things down, I noticed that there are three main limitations with keeping everything you need to remember in your head:

It’s harder to organise your tasks. If you have 20 or more things to do in one day, it can be quite difficult to prioritise your tasks and figure out when you are going to do them. Just with a pen and paper, you can do so many things to organise your tasks.

For example, you can put an asterisk beside all the tasks that are important, you can number your tasks or even write them down in different orders. I won’t get into what you can do with certain organisation and productivity apps on your computer or phone because that would take a entire blog post.

You’re not perfect. Your mind does occasionally make mistakes. No matter how good your memory is, you will eventually forget something.

By having your ideas or tasks written down, you simply reduce the chances of forgetting them.

Only using your brain to remember things leads to procrastination. Your mind usually doesn’t plan ahead. If it sees that there are tasks that need to be completed but there is no specific deadline set for them in the near future, your mind will tell you to do something else, and often it’s something more pleasurable than the task you need to complete.

Having everything written down gives you a bigger picture of what you need to do which will help you and plan ahead and become more proactive. Think of your notebook, agenda, or whatever digital equivalent you have as a system or a machine that processes information and writing things down. The machine, unlike your mind, doesn’t lie to itself and it isn’t tempted by procrastination.

It might take time to develop your own personal system to organise your tasks and ideas. There are many ready-made systems out there that are at your disposal like David Allen’s GTD. Personally, I find the GTD method too complex but the basic principles of the system are well thought out. That is why I developed my own system which is loosely based on David Allen’s method. The main tool I use here is just any old notebook :

I first start with what David Allen calls a “brain dump”. They should be done regularly just so you can to keep your goals and ideas up to date. Take a solid hour, or even two hours and write down all the small or medium-sized tasks you must do, all you long-term goals, all your project ideas and all the things you would like to do if you had more time. Even though you haven’t acted on most of the things that you just wrote down, it is still very relieving to take all your thoughts and “dump” them in your notebook.

After the brain dump, I have to sort out all that information. I take my notebook and flip it over so I could use the back of it. At the back of this notebook I have 5 sections:

1)Things that can be done now: This is where I put all the tasks that can be done right away in the comfort of my home. They are often tasks that can be done quite quickly during some random blocks of free time.

2)Weekly or daily tasks: I made this section just to remind myself of the things I should be doing on a regular basis, like my morning exercise and stretching routine. Usually, this list doesn’t change too much.

3) Someday/Maybe: This section is composed of all the things I would like to do but just don’t have time for right now.

4) Large and medium-sized projects: I normally put all the tasks that take a few steps to complete in here. Most of the time, these tasks also require me to leave the house.

5) Quick notes and Ideas: This is the section that I use the least. I mainly use my Ipod for jotting down blog post ideas or some information while I’m on the go since I don’t bring my notebook with me everywhere.

After I have done all that, I can now start using the front of my notebook. I use it as my daily to-do list section. Every day I write the date and under it I put all the tasks I would like to complete that day. In these daily lists I usually write down things I have to do for school. I don’t bother sorting out my school related tasks with the back sections of the notebook, I just write them down directly in my daily lists. I also take some uncompleted tasks from the back of the notebook and insert them in this section.

Finally, I keep the system going. There might be days where I just don’t use the notebook either because I’m busy all day or I just don’t feel like doing anything. The important thing is to get back with it every time I fall of track.

Hopefully you have an idea of how my system works. It seems quite logical in my head but it could be unclear for you.

Again, this is just the system I use to sort out the things I write down. Your method could be completely different. I’m just offering it as a source of inspiration in case you don’t have a method to organise your tasks.

In short, just like decluttering your house, try to get all the clutter out of your head and put it in a notebook or some kind or electronic device. Let the item or gadget where you have everything written down do all the remembering and organising for you so you can focus on the task at hand.

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