It can be difficult remembering all the things you have to do.
Let’s say you’re out having dinner with family friends. You’re unwinding from your day, catching up with people you haven’t seen in a while, but then in the middle of a fascinating conversation about Bill’s sister’s poodle, you have a thought about the presentation you’re going to give at work tomorrow.
In this kind of situation, you have three choices:
- Do nothing. Continue with your conversation and make a mental note of your idea.
- Become preoccupied with the task. It’s important and you should give it some thought.
- “Quick capture” the task. Jot down the thought you have on your phone or a piece of paper and then continue your night without it distracting you from your enjoyable evening. Return to the idea once the dinner is over.
If you go with option 1, chances are that you won’t remember it later - our brains are not very good at remembering things without prompts. If you go with option 2, you’re setting yourself and your friends up for a bad night. The point of catching up with friends over dinner is after all to see them and have a good time, not worry about work.
So that leaves option 3: quick capture. We think this is the best way for you to manage your tasks.
There’s a few things you need to do to capture your ideas and organize your tasks.
Write it down
Quickly capturing an idea and writing it down - somewhere, anywhere, online or in an notebook or on a napkin at the restaurant you’re at - is the first step to effective task management. It lets you keep your focus on the task at hand while making a list for later. Quick capture is an essential component of David Allen’s GTD methodology, which works on the premise that our brains are for having ideas, not holding them.
“Our brain is like a computer - if you fill up the RAM with things you have to do, you’ll never get anything done” - David Allen
If you’re focused on trying to remember what you have to do, instead of actually doing what you have to do, you spend a lot of energy on something that isn’t productive. Trying to remember so many things at once overtaxes the prefrontal cortex, weakens your decision-making ability, and takes up valuable space in the brain. You need to lighten your cognitive load so that you actively work towards achieving your goals, not just remembering them.
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Quick capture is the first step to making sure all your tasks get done and that nothing slips through the cracks. It’s a very simple concept: as soon as you have an idea, get it out of your head and into a trusted system. This trusted system can be a task management tool, a piece of paper, an online to do list, your phone - just make sure it’s a system that works for you. Once you have your idea captured in a trusted system, you free up a ton of mental space. And now that everything is written down, you can go about prioritizing, organizing, and acting on your list without fear of forgetting anything.
Be active, not passive, in allocating your time
Victor Hugo once, said,
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most of his busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign”
You need to organize your day so that you’re not just reacting to events, but actively planning what you’re going to do and how much time you’re going to spend on a task. Sort through what’s urgent and what’s important. Avoid entering a state Mike Schmitz describes as “Emergency Scan Modality” where you’re constantly putting out fires and operating in a state of emergency.
Before going into stressed-out overdrive, assess the situation. Think of your goals and desired outcomes. What deadlines do you really need to stick to, and which are self-imposed? Do you have 57 items on the “finish today” section of your task list?
Our days often seem like a tornado of activity. Sometimes it’s both hard to take a break and hard to feel like you’re getting something meaningful done. If you’re in this state of constant busyness, it might be time to try a new approach to managing your tasks.
Achieving “mind like water”
Mind like water is a state of perfect readiness. Think of throwing a small rock into a still pool of water: the water responds appropriately to the force and mass of the input. This proportional reaction takes the shape of ripples on the water that originate from the point of impact, that slowly dissipate into a state of calm.
Water, when met by an impact, doesn’t overreact or underreact. It reacts exactly the way it should. When confronted with a challenge, you should aim to do the same. Don’t underreact and neglect the task until it becomes a crisis. And don’t spend too much time on something that’s not a key component of your work. For example, stop constantly checking your email after work. Most issues you’ll only resolve once you’re back at the office the following day anyway, and in the meantime your inbox is keeping you distracted from spending valuable time relaxing with family.
Quick capture can help you achieve “mind like water.” When everything you need to do - for the day, the week, the month - is written down, you can start organizing it and allocating each task the appropriate amount of time. An important aspect of this is sorting through what’s important and what’s urgent: if we don’t make this distinction and just start doing the first thing that comes to mind, we often end up overwhelming ourselves and prioritizing the wrong things.
Make sure your trusted system is in sync with your task management style
For quick capture to work, you need to find a trusted system that works for you. Make sure it’s something where you can jot down all you ideas. After emptying your ideas into one place, your trusted system should be flexible enough that you can easily move around things on your to-do list and get organized.
Your ubiquitous capture tool needs to be truly ubiquitous: if you find yourself not writing things down, not organizing things by priority, or find yourself unable to access your quick capture tool, chances are you might not be using the right tool for you. If you’re using a task management app, does it encourage the right kind of planning and help you collaborate with your team?
If your task management tool is slowing down your work instead of speeding it up, figure out what the problem is - and either fix it, or change your tool to something that is truly ubiquitous. For example, if you use a pen and paper system, you might end up with many different lists scattered in several places. It might be difficult to reorganize your tasks since you need to constantly be writing, rewriting, crossing things out and changing things around.
Maybe it’s time to switch to an online solution to quickly capture your tasks. Why does an online platform improve your task management? Because you have access to it from anywhere; it sends you reminders; and it’s flexible.