A recent conversation with one of my clients revealed an unhealthy negativity among some people about todo list managers. It seems some people think there is something “a bit obsessive” about capturing all your ideas and commitments into an ‘external brain’ — whether that is a digital application such as Todoist or a simple notebook. What surprised me about this conversation was people thought capturing ideas was a “bit obsessive”.
There are countless examples of immensely successful people using some kind of capture tool to collect their ideas from Leonardo Da Vinci to Sir Richard Branson. There must be hundreds of thousands of articles written about the benefits of writing everything down, I even remember in school teachers telling us to write some important fact down into our exercise books. It seems incredible that some people think capturing ideas into a notebook or digital device is “a bit obsessive”.
So, what are the benefits of having a method to capture all your ideas and commitments? To begin with, in the world we live in today, there are now numerous ways people can communicate with us. It could be by telephone, email, Slack, letter, text message or through social media. That’s a lot of places where a message that needs replying to could hide. Having a central place to remind you to reply to a message just makes sense. It’s faster, more efficient and means once you have captured the commitment, you no longer need to think about remembering to reply. It takes less than thirty seconds to type “Reply to Alan’s text”. The consequences if you do not reply, might not be very bad, but then it could also mean you miss the opportunity to get the job you have always dreamed of, or a sale that could mean the difference between making your bonus or not.
In terms of your own health, stress related illnesses are now the biggest killer in the developed world. The stress of trying to keep so many balls in the air has a profound impact on your wellbeing, your health and your happiness. Trying to remember everything that needs to be done and by when destroys your ability to relax. You constantly have this nagging feeling you should be doing something else instead of what it is you are doing right now. Your brain is in a constant state of work. You think you are relaxing, but your brain is in overdrive. That is not relaxing. Relaxing is being able to think of nothing, or of calm beaches where the ocean laps softly on the rocks. To doze and to enjoy a joke with your partner. Sadly most people are distracted. When your closest friend tells you something important to them, you don’t hear it because you are trying to remember what it was your boss asked you to do for tomorrow. People are distracted and not able to enjoy the moment because their brains are trying to tell them they forgot something.
And the most common one of all. Waking up at 3AM, suddenly remembering you should have emailed your CEO the itinerary for their visit to Germany. Then not being able to get back to sleep because you left the itinerary on your desktop in the office and so you cannot send it until you get to the office. You nervously check your phone in case the CEO has messaged you about it. Then finding you cannot get back to sleep because you are so worried about about how P’ed off your boss will be when he lands in Germany in the next hour.
Writing these things down when they first come in to your head avoids all these issues. You find yourself being enveloped by a calm serenity because you trust your capture tool. When you process everything you have captured during the day, you know what you have to do, when you have to do it and you need not give it another thought until you decide to do it. There’s no more “Oh damn! I forgot to…” There’s just calm, control of everything that is going on in your life. You no longer wake up at 3AM suddenly remembering you should have done something. You sleep better, you are less stressed and your rarely feel overwhelmed or too busy, and you are able to enjoy time with your friends and loved ones completely without the distraction of mentally being somewhere else trying to remember what it is you should be doing. Surely that is a much better state to be in, than a stressed out wreck, overwhelmed with work, yet not knowing what needs to be done next or by when.
So, if you are someone who has learnt the value of capturing everything that comes to mind when it comes to mind, and you have friends and colleagues who think you are a “bit obsessive”, then do not worry. You are the smart one. They are the irresponsible ones. They are the ones who are putting their long-term health and wealth in danger. They are the ones that will get trapped in middle management and they are the ones who will become a statistic in the next calculations on stress-related illnesses. You are the one who has a better chance of enjoying a long, healthy and prosperous life. You will enjoy the times you have with your friends and family and have time to build quality relationships with the people who matter most to you.
And you will have all that because of your simple practice of capturing and writing everything down when it comes in and processing those captured things every day.
Next time someone tells you that writing everything down is a “bit obsessive”, have sympathy for them. You’re not “obsessive” you’re just practicing good old fashioned common sense.
Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.