Sometime ago I heard David Allen speak on Getting Things Done (GTD). I’ve since read both of his books and his system is pretty good – keep sets of lists that have everything that you need to get done. When something new pops in your head, write it down. Clear out the accumulating piles of possible actions – papers, meeting notes, your email inbox regularly so you can have clarity about your commitments. Ultimately, this can lead to a very long set of actions that you would really like to take.
But you can’t do it all. Not only that, it can be exhausting trying to figure out how to prioritize which ones you really need to do, especially as the list of items continue to grow. You can get a lot of things done, but it’s hard to know if it’s the right things.
Throw good ideas away, keep only the great
To-do list items can become a lot like the stuff in your garage – forgotten until reviewed, then appear incredibly useful upon review (see below “The Value of Objects”). Almost all of us can come up with a very long list of things we would like to do and it requires significant mental energy to prune through the list and identify the ones that truly need to be done. It can be hard to remove them from the list because they really are good ideas.
This is one of the reasons I really like the philosophy that 37signals has regarding their list of feature requests – listen, consider, then throw them away.
Ultimately, David Allen’s approach of writing things down so you aren’t trying to remember everything in your head is the right approach. It keeps us from being distracted, remembering the things we need to do. At the same time, keeping the lists culled and focused will help you be more willing to go back to them without feeling overwhelmed. It can also help you make hard decisions about which things truly MUST be done, and which are simply good ideas. Culling around what is most important is one of the aspects that I like about the Designing A Balanced Life system.
Ultimately, we don’t need to remember every good idea we ever have because we will be reminded of things that are truly important when we need to do them. Writing down and trying to remember every one of them can be like storing every object you think might have value to you someday in your garage – just lead to lots of clutter and make you not want to go there.
Related Posts: The Value of Objects