Buy some milk. Putting these words on a piece of paper, as quickly as possible. Tip of the pen touching paper, slanted letters quickly filling lines in my notebook. Small, black dot ending the sentence. Done. Smile and forget.
But then, such trivial activity is obvious and satisfying only for me. My girlfriend’s strange look reminded me about it once again.
“Why do you always write those down? Aren’t you going to remember to buy milk?”
We had similar arguments before. She would be surprised by my meticulous and regular writing down of every single thing that I would have to do, while I would urge that this is what makes me more productive. However, this time, she took a rather different approach with her argument.
“You are going to spoil your memory by it. An unused brain will simply get lazy.”
This statement, although lacking any kind of verifiable proof, provoked me to think about the way in which I work with my memory. As an avid user of the Getting Things Done (GTD) organisational methodology, have I become so enthusiastic about becoming more productive that I have simply ignored the damage that this behaviour inflicts on my brain? What are the real consequences of supplementing memory with technology?
For David Allen, the inventor of Getting Things Done, one is supposed to jot down every single task in order to free the memory from the intrusiveness of everyday stuff. According to Allen, this is meant to provide “solutions for transforming overwhelm and uncertainty”. The basic concepts of GTD theory establish that one has to record all the tasks that he encounters, every day, and process them according to when and where one will be able to actually do them. It applies to all different kinds of tasks, from “buying ice cream” to “applying for a new job”.
Though it may sound a bit vague in the beginning, this is a kind of method that quickly becomes habitual. I am a living example of this; after less than four months of implementing it into my life, it became natural for me to think about tasks in terms of when will I have to do them and what will I need to do them. Because of this I have to remember close to nothing, since I know that there is always a list, either in my notebook or on my computer, that catalogues everything that needs to be done. Are there any other benefits of supplementing one’s memory in such way?
The answer to this question is: yes. There are three significant benefits of organising one’s tasks in this way:
- Recalling Allen’s own words, the system eliminates anxiety, allowing one to carry out tasks in a calm manner.
- It reduces the stress caused by being scared of forgetting something. Once written down, words cannot disappear from a piece of paper. This advantage shouldn’t be underestimated. One becomes more self-confident; being able to simply prepare for the things, one avoids the unpleasant consequences of forgetting about tasks.
- Generally speaking, one becomes more productive. Apart from remembering to get things done, first and foremost, one has to want to get things done. Getting Things Done solves this problem by teaching people to break down huge projects into smaller, more accessible, “chunks” of actions. To use the Merlin Mann’s example, the task “clean the garage” should be composed of many little actions, like “buy dustbin bags” or “check if I have a clean mop”.
So are there any weak sides of implementing GTD in your life? It might be the case that one’s short-term memory is negatively affected but, in my opinion, the pros of Getting Things Done way outweigh the cons. However, as much as I would recommend trying it, this specific organisational system may not work for everybody. Try it and see.