My goal is to forget about everything I have to do as soon as I learn I need to do it.
It’s an ambitious goal. Audacious, even. I work hard at it.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ll get it done. I just don’t want it swimming around my head until (and after) I do. I have more interesting things to think about than “Mail Ben’s birthday card” unless I’m out running errands.
The key is to remember what you need to do at the right time. Until then, forget about it.
This is one of my favorite lines from Getting Things Done by David Allen:
Your brain is great at coming up with ideas but it’s usually not that great at remembering them. If your brain is the only place an idea is stored, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. You need to help your brain offload some of that cognitive retention and free it up to relax, be creative, and have fun.
Here are six of the key principles invovled in being forgetfully produtive.
- Write it down. Don’t worry about whether it’s important or not. (If you have to ask, write it down.) Tasks, projects, ideas. People to call, groceries to buy, places to visit. If you can put it in its permanent place—task list, shopping list, address book—great! If not, drop a note in your inbox to process later.
- Use as many inboxes as you need, but no more. An inbox is any temporary location where you can put stuff to process it later. Your email has an inbox. Your mailbox is an inbox. OmniFocus has an inbox (that Siri can update for you). I have a tray on my desk at home where my wife knows she can put things and I will get to them. An inbox should be someplace you know you will check regularly so things don’t get lost. When you have too many inboxes, then there are too many places things can hide and be forgotten about.
- Review your task list in the morning. First thing. Get your bearings on the day. You should know what you’re working on now, next, and then, but don’t try to keep more of the list in your head than that. That’s why you made a list.
- Draft your day before you go to bed. Write down the most important things you need to do tomorrow. Like any piece of writing, your first draft probably won’t be your final draft. Interruptions will happen, but you can put things in motion so that your day comes together.
- Write down everything you do. Keep a diary or work log of what you do. It helps you feel productive when you can look back on a nice, long list of what you’ve done, and it’s invaluable when you need to go back days, weeks, or years later and reconstruct what you did.
- Trust your system. Now the hard part: let go. Put things in motion, then stop worrying about it. This will be hard at first. Your brain will keep a tight hold on everything until it learns that it can let go, think of something more interesting, and have it come back at the right time.
If you can forget about what you need to do without worrying that it won’t get done, you’ll sleep better at night. You’ll be more relaxed, more spontaneous. You’ll have more time to be creative and focus on the aspects of your job that you love. You’ll spend more time working on what’s important and less time putting out fires.