One of those ugly things about becoming an "adult" is that you learn that slacking through or relying completely on talent just doesn't work anymore. Not following through on a project or not remembering an appointment doesn't just give you a bad grade anymore - it could mean your job, your livelyhood, or your career. It's taken a school of hard knocks for me to learn that I needed to change my wicked and slothful ways, but now I'm pursuing a new path - one I'll be shaing with you. Call this "GTD for the common man" or a "Dummies Guide to Juggling Life," but I'm going to share in this topic ideas I've found that actually work for me - whether they're radically geek or extremely boring old-school.

Like myself, I'm sure many of you think you have a brain. Let me help you with one clear truth - you don't. At least, you don't have the brain you really need. All of us have deficiencies in how our minds work, even the ones that look like they have it all put together. For me, the problem is often that I have too many ideas. I'm an ENFP, which means I'm great at perceiving interrelated ideas or intuitively discovering needs, but I'm terrible at following through on them. I get more lightbulbs above my head than there are on the Vegas strip, but just as fast as you can lose your money on a blackjack table, they're gone. Our brains are incredible processors, but without training or help, they're terrible hard drives.

So when you look at creative types across many disciplines, you'll see one theme running through how they pull down all those ideas - everyone has to write it down. Whether you're an aspiring comedian, web comic artist, creator of fine art, or just a guy trying to get things done
, there's an amazing power in putting your ideas in a written form while you're thinking:

  • Writing your ideas actually helps you remember them, because you engage your visual and kinetic learning paths

  • Writing creates a fixed state for your ideas, so you can look back on them and see how your position has changed - this is why you should write the date on everything

  • Writing ideas creates a small level of commitment - every time you see it, you'll be reminded about what that means for you

What should I write on?
What actual instruments you use are completely up to you. As an avid Palm user, I always love using my PDA, but it's not always the best choice for writing. I've taken to carrying a small notepad with an elastic closure with me where ever I go (not a moleskine, mind you, I'm too cheap for that), because writing my ideas on a small pad of paper eliminates the barriers of Graffiti and styluses (styli?). Whatever you write on should be quick, easy, and present as few barriers as possible for getting the ideas from your mind onto something concrete.

What do I do with what I've written?
Also entirely up to you, but writing an idea down shouldn't be the end of it. If it's a project, you need to move it into some sort of workflow system, even if that's as simple as a to-do-list. The paper is a temporary fix, just getting the idea down and set so that it doesn't float out your mind. Even if you write everything that's ever in your head, if you don't do anything about it you're still stuck at square one. I like to use an icon system of sorts for defining items that require action, are just for my own information, or are related to a phone call I've made. Review your notepad or index cards or whatever as often as possible, so you know that everything that's in there has a place and an action if necessary. If you don't know what to do with what you've written, put it in a different place or on a page called "HUH?" and come back to it later. If it still doesn't do anything for you, you can probably get rid of it.

I hope you'll enjoy embarking upon the path to personal productivity with me, and I really want to see your comments on if you're using this concept!

"Today is where your book begins/ The rest is still unwritten."

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Hannah said...

This is totally something I need to start doing. But I don't have time to write out my thoughts right now. (How ironic is that?) :)

The Swan said...

This comment comes to us from Jennifer, sometimes mentioned on The Boook of Phylemon. I liked it a lot, so I thought I'd post it here for her:

What's up with not being able to post a comment on your blog unless I have a Blogger account?

Since I can't post there, I'll say it here: you are SOOOOO right. Writing things down has saved me so much grief over the years, and the best resource I have is my Outlook Personal Folder. It allows me to keep my e-mails on my hard drive instead of the district server so that file size is not an issue. Also, if I get questions about something months later (as happened today when someone from my old school asked me something about what software license I ordered for them in early September - yeah, THAT'S still in recall memory...), I have documentation to look at. It also reminds me of meetings that I completely forget otherwise - something I REALLY need a lot in the new job. Seems everything at an administration building of a school district gets done by committee.

Hooray for technology! :)