write things down

Want To Be More Productive? Start Writing Things Down

“When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
Michael Leboeuf

Have you ever had this happen to you?

You are doing your daily work, whatever that is, and out of nowhere a brilliant idea pops into your head. A new product, a new marketing twist, a topic idea for your next blog post….or even “oh s$%^, I forgot to call my cousin for her birthday”. At the time, the idea seems so new, so fresh and so important that you think to yourself “there is absolutely no way I can forget this one” and you continue whatever you are doing so you can finish it and take time for your new idea.

A few days later, again at a random time, you remember that a few day ago you had a brilliant idea, but all you can remember now is that you HAD the idea and it was super-duper amazing, but for the life of you, you cannot remember what the idea actually was, so you drive yourself crazy for the next few hours, trying to remember.

That is very familiar scenario for most people (especially me). Over the years, I have lost countless good ideas in the exact same way and I’ve forgotten more important things that I care to admit. And exactly because of that, I few years back I implemented a new habit, one that has really revolutionized my productivity: writing things down (immediately, or at least as soon as I can).

Writing things down is an essential habit if you want to be productive, there is no question about it, but let’s examine in more details some of the biggest benefits.

Forces You To Remember Things

Memory improvement is a boring subject, I know, but let’s face it, the more (important) things you can remember, the more productive you are going to be.

When an idea pops into your head and you take the few seconds it takes to write it down, you accomplish two things at the same time:

  • You have a trace of your idea which can serve as a reminder to follow up later on. It is no longer just a random thought in your mind, it is a post-it note on your desk, or a line of text on your computer.
  • The actual process of writing your idea down will help you remember it better. The more effort it takes you to take an action, the deeper it embeds in your brain (the more you remember it). Even if you write it down on a piece of paper and immediately discard it, you will remember it much better compared to just “trying” to remember it.

Clears Your Mind

If it is in your head, it is on your mind.

It is scientifically proven that you cannot think about two things at the same time. Two important things that is. If you are writing a blog post and an idea for a new product comes into your mind, you are faced with a choice and an opportunity cost. If you concentrate on your writing, you might forget about the product, if you think about the product, you might be killing your thought process for the blog post. In either case, one of the ideas is going to be distraction. The only effective solution in this case is writing your product idea on a piece of paper, getting it out of your head, continuing with your writing and then coming back to your idea only when you blog post is published.

Your mind can only do so many things at once. It is like your computer. If you open a few programs, it works pretty well and everything flows, but the more programs you open, the harder it needs to work so the process becomes slower and slower to the point where you need to restart it to clear out the RAM and start fresh. Writing things down accomplishes the same for your brain. By taking things out of your mind you are allowing it to work more efficiently and concentrate on what is really important.

Makes Thinking Easier

Writing things down is not only confined to random thoughts and ideas. Writing things down also refers to more complex ideas such as processes and check lists.

If you want to create a checklist, personal or business, it is much easier to do it on a piece of paper, or on the computer, instead of in your head. When you externalize it, you can make changes much easier. You can move things around, edit them, delete them, add additional information and so on. All of these are nearly impossible to do just in your head. Yeah, maybe you can remember the 3-item grocery list for tonight’s dinner with the boys (or ladies), but try planning out that 15 people Thanksgiving dinner in your head.

When you think on paper, you are allowing yourself to be much more efficient. Plus, by seeing your final product, whether it is a checklist, a process map, a mind map, or just a bunch of text, you get a little sense of accomplishment which is very important and it will help you follow through on whatever you actually wrote down.

The Big Question – Digital or Analogue

Is it better to write it down on a piece of paper or on your iPhone? The answer is, it depends on what you are writing down and where you are at right now.

Science tells us that physically writing things down makes it easier to remember them. Without going into too much detail, it turns out that because of how brains are wired, when we form letters with a hand-held device we are more efficient at learning and remembering what we write. It probably also has something to do with the fact that for 1000s of years, people have been writing things down with their hands and only in the last 50 years we have transitioned to typewriters and later on computers and smartphones. In other words, although we are so accustomed to computers these days, they are a pretty pretty new in the world.

In theory, you should be writing things on paper as much as you can. But that is not always practical. If you are outside, chances are you have a smart phone in your pocket and no access to a notepad, so you sort of have no choice, but to digitize your notes. If you need to draw something, or create a rather complex mind map, the tools that the computer provides are going to make it much easier to be efficient.

The bottom line is this, use whatever makes the most sense to YOU. Analogue is more effective, but digital is more efficient so there will never be a clear winner.

The Importance Of Having A System


Don’t be that person!

The whole idea behind writing things down is to make you more productive. If you end up being overwhelmed by your notes, the process becomes rather useless. This why having a system of doing things is so critical to your success.

Know where things need to go and create a space for everything. A new product idea comes you way while out for lunch, write it down, but as soon as you are back home, or at the office, process your note and enter it in your system. If your note is about calling someone, enter it in your to-do list, or even, better, in your calendar.

Make it habit to go review your notes on a regular basis (ideally, daily) and enter them into your system. Once there, discard the note as you no longer need it. The moment you let your notes overwhelm you and create chaos, that is the movement where the whole process looses its effectiveness.

Here are my favorite tools that keep me organized:

  • To-do lists – Wunderlist – it is light, easy to use, looks pretty cool and it synchs between your smartphone (tablet) and computer. And it is free.
  • Calendar – Google Calendar – it is pretty straightforward, nothing too fancy in terms of design, but hey, it is supposed to work well, not be pretty. Also free, like most Google products.
  • Notes – Evernote – let’s you keep any type of notes organized, synchs between all devices and has extensions for most browsers that make the process of capturing notes a little easier. Free, but also has a paid “Premium” version with extra features. Evernote is awesome on it’s own, but there are some pretty cool ways to hack it and automate your entire workflow. If you are a power-user, you will love this.

That is it. I use a total of 3 tools to keep myself organized. It is lean and efficient.

Over to you now

Make it habit to write things down. Get it out of your head so you can remember better and also free up your mind to concentrate on what is really important. Use whatever tool works best for you. Pen and paper will make the information stick to your memory better, but digital tools make it easier and faster to process that information, so use whatever tool you have handy at the time. The glue that makes this whole thing stick together is processing your notes and entering them in your main system on a regular basis.

Think on paper and make writing things down a habit and you will see your productivity explode!

What are your thoughts on writing things down? Share in the comment section below.