I have two brains… sometimes it makes me do weird stuff. I often stop whatever I am doing to take down a note or more commonly, shout a command into my phone.
“Call the school”
“Tender due next week”
I am sure this makes me look at tad on the strange side. However, this is me sending stuff to my ‘second brain’.
A few years go, I read a book called Getting Things Done (GTD) by productivity guru David Allen. The go-to system for a host of celebrities (Oprah Winfrey for one), CEOs and entrepreneurs, GTD was said to be the key to their success. I was on a quest for self-improvement, so I jumped right in.
The basic concept of GTD is that your brain is a little like a computer. It can only have so much RAM and hold so much information before it starts to slow down (and sometimes… crash). To prevent this, you need to get all the little things (called open loops) out of your head and into an external system.
And when I say all the little things, I mean ALL of them, no matter how small or trivial it seems. Or no matter how much your brain tells you “It’s okay, I will remember that”. You might do, that’s not the point. The game here isn’t helping you remember, its help you free your mind of all that stuff so you can have more creative and profound thoughts! In freeing up your mind from these open loops, you feel calmer, more in control and have space for new ideas.
The science behind GTD
This isn’t some voodoo nonsense, it’s grounded in solid science. Our brains are very good at having ideas. What they aren’t good at is holding them in there. In fact, when your brain is holding all the ‘stuff’ that life requires of us, a battle of space ensues and no-one wins. The simple act of writing things down and clearing them out of our mind frees our minds up for more creativity and expression
You may have experienced this in some way in the past. Before going on holiday, we usually write a LONG list of all the items we need to take. Or even before going food shopping, we often write a list so we don’t forget. Imagine trying to walk around remembering fifty items at Coles without a list? Balls would be dropped, items missed. “Oh shit, I forgot the milk”.
GTD goes a long way to preventing this. And, it works. If you run a business, or are in a creative role such as a designer or marketer, an external capturing system such as GTD is a godsend. Got kids? The effectiveness of GTD in your daily juggling sky rockets.
It helps you manage all the things that come at you each day so you can focus on the bigger-picture things and have more creative ideas. That logo concept can take shape, that new idea can come to life. You won’t forget the milk.
Given the year we’ve had, I cannot imagine doing it without my second brain. My poor old first brain would have left the building long ago (some still argue it did).
In essence, GTD involves taking your open loops (i.e. stuff – emails, ideas, tasks, requests, etc) and getting them out of your mind and into an external system. This system can be paper, digital or like me, a combination of the two. The ‘stuff’ is placed directly into an inbox, and the items are sorted (Do Now, Do Later, Delegate, Trash, File). On a weekly basis (called a Weekly Review), any outstanding items are updated and cleaned out.
The GTD system is pretty simple once you get the hang of it and are able to make some of the key actions into habits. It does take discipline and it’s important not to abandon it when things get hectic or you get super busy – this is when you need it most.
Make it a habit:
The brain is an inconsiderate so and so. It doesn’t care if you are busy, sleeping or driving. If it has a thought (sometimes important) it will show up whenever it wants. Getting ‘the stuff’ out of your head when it randomly arrives (even at 2am) is key to making all this work. Luckily, modern technology has your back once again. Smartphone apps such as Braintoss enable you to speak, type or photograph your open loop and send it direct to your email inbox in one click. Back to sleep for me, I will deal with that in the morning.
Keep up the weekly reviews:
The cornerstone of GTD, the weekly review is a set time that you allocate each week to go over your system to make sure everything is captured and on cruise control. A good weekly review enables you to clear you mind of any little thing that have slipped through the cracks and is an opportunity to review your system and clean it out. Guilty of missing the odd weekly review here or there, I ALWAYS feel better for doing it. Try to keep around half an hour free at a set time each week to keep your second brain healthy and up to date.
If you are working a creative role or run a business, GTD is a great tool for managing all that comes your way. That said, the system works for anyone from teachers, to accountants to stay-at-home parents. It is ideal for anyone seeking clarity and calm in their busy lives. It makes you feel in control and opens you up to new ideas and more creativity.
The system is not rigid, it enables you to create it how you want it. Everyone’s mind is different and GTD lets you design your external second brain in a way that works for you. In today’s modern world where our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions, GTD really is like finding the secret of the universe.
Interested in learning more about Getting Things Done? You can buy David Allen’s excellent book here, listen to this great introductory podcast here, or get in touch with me for some tips and advice on where to start.