“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.” -Shunryu Suzuki
I first came upon David Allen’s Getting Things Done in March 2007. It was not a particularly good year. I was feeling overwhelmed at work, home, church—well, everywhere, really. I felt like I was going under for the third, fourth, and fifth time; drowning in a sea of to-dos and meetings and obligations. I’ve always considered myself pretty organized, but even so, I was struggling.
I also started to physically fall apart (related?), and wound up in the hospital having major (and surprise) surgery. This was not my finest hour. Somehow, during my extended recovery, I latched onto a copy of Getting Things Done and devoured it. I felt hope. I felt relief. Most importantly, I felt understood in my struggle.
“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” -Horace
I implemented David’s system and saw immediate results. I could finally breathe. I was still dealing with the same obligations, but now I was getting things down on paper and into my “trusted system.” My life and circumstances were the same but I was engaging with all of the inputs in a more systematic fashion. My head no longer felt like it was going to burst into flames from grinding on everything it was trying to remember. There was a very physical kind of relief, along with a lovely mental weightlessness.
Since then, over these ten years, my system has evolved. I’ll always be tweaking things, looking for ways to implement the system more efficiently or more completely. I work largely with analog tools because I enjoy them (understatement of the year) and they are usually RIGHT THERE. I also use Trello to manage all of my various lists digitally. I’m happy with my current set-up, for the most part.
This week, David Allen appeared on the Whole Life Challenge podcast—in an episode that I just finished listening to this morning. I’m doing the WLC for the ninth time, and it’s going very well. I feel great. This week’s lifestyle challenge is called “Brain Toss.” In order to score your lifestyle points for the day, you have a generate a list of the things that are on your mind—things that you can’t deal with right now. No sweat for me. I’m up to my eyeballs in lists.
“There is no reason to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.” -David Allen
But as I listened to that episode, I realized that while I have my daily work and personal to-do lists, I’m not capturing my thoughts as completely as I should be. Over the years, I’ve slipped in that key area. I write a lot of stuff down, but not everything. I’m still trying to keep track of things with my brain, which means that I’m not doing GTD as well as I should or could be. I need to, I realized, capture everything— the mundane, the important, the incidental, the large and small ideas, the smart stuff as well as the dumb stuff.
But what should I use? Normally I’ll grind on this decision much longer than I care to admit, but this time, the answer came easily.
I have a healthy stash of pocket notebooks. That’s putting it mildly. I use Field Notes or Story Supply Co. or Write Notepads pocket notebooks on a daily basis, but I still have boxes full of unused editions. For this task, though, there’s one clear choice—Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebooks.
These memo pad style notebooks are 3.5″ x 5.5″—small enough to be carried everywhere— and feature a top staple binding. The fact that they’re top-bound makes them ideal, in my eyes, for use as a ubiquitous capture tool.
I labeled the front cover for personal capture, and the back cover for work capture. Because the covers are very understated, customizing them to fit your own needs is simple. For my personal to-dos, thoughts, and random ideas, I’ll write in the notebook from front to back, then simply flip the notebook over and write from back to front for my work life. That way, both aspects of my life are captured in one notebook, but are still kept nicely separated. I love this setup.
Throughout the day I’ve been jotting down thoughts and tasks and ideas in this notebook. From here, they’ll go into Trello for safekeeping and review, and then onto handwritten daily to-do lists when the time is right.
“Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an open loop pulling on your attention.” –David Allen
Once again, I’m capturing everything.
Ten years in, I’m still practicing and honing my GTD methods and skills. Spurred by this week’s Whole Life Challenge lifestyle practice and podcast, I’ve decided to read the 2nd edition of Getting Things Done to see if, or how, I can move my understanding and practices to an even higher level. Starting today, I’m taking things up yet another notch by carrying the simple and perfectly formatted Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebook with me literally everywhere.
I really do hope to one day achieve “mind like water,” where I’m neither underreacting nor overreacting. Life goals.
The notebooks featured in this post were purchased with my own funds. There are no affiliate links in this post. All quotes credited to the first edition of Getting Things Done.