Mind Like Water

David Allen is the author of “Getting Things Done.” Your first guess of the topic of this book will probably be centered around productivity. You would not be completely wrong but, you would be missing the larger point of his system.



The system that is laid out in the book is quite extensive. David Allen has used it in the past to teach many top-level executives how to organize their tasks. I personally modified the system a bit to fit into my life better. Maybe one day I will use the full system in the way that he outlines, but right now the modified version has still greatly improved my life.


The system that I modified generally consists of creating locations to file anything that needs to be used in the future. David Allen recommends having a basket, both actual and metaphorically, for items that need direct attention, items that are waiting on something else, items that you’d maybe like to do someday, items that need to be organized by specific projects, and items that have a specific time to be done which he recommends a calendar for. For the most part, I follow this same general outline.


A crucial element to this system is to always keep a notebook (or another note-taking device) with you. This is so that as thoughts come into your mind, then you can write them down quickly without interrupting what you are doing at that time.


Now that you will have a notebook full of notes, it is also important to the system to make time to go through the notebook and categorize your notes into your system. You will organize the tasks, or physical items related to a task, into your organized baskets. Then, as you decide to allocate some time to get a few things done, you will have a list or a basket that you can go to and start completing ‘next action’ items. There are admittedly many parts to his actual system that I am not mentioning that all have nuances to each step. Regardless, I would like to just focus on the idea of always keeping a note-taking device with you.


David Allen points out how our minds can be good (sometimes) at reminding ourselves of the things that we need to do. However, they do not have any sense of time. He explains this as trying to remind yourself that you need to buy cat food. You may be laying in bed in the middle of the night and your mind randomly decides to remind you, CAT FOOD! Obviously, this is not the time to get up and try to buy cat food, but your brain doesn’t know the difference. It is simply the job of the brain to remind you. It does so repeatedly until you can convince it that you do not need to be reminded again.


We all experience this. Many people’s days are filled with thoughts racing through our heads. Constantly reminding ourselves of things that have happened and are not resolved or things we will need to do in the future. By keeping notes continuously then we can get those thoughts off our minds and get them into a larger system that we will eventually trust. This has the added benefit of capturing great ideas as they come to you so that you do not forget them in the future.


Granted, note-taking and sorting will take a bit of time to see benefits from. You are probably holding onto more thoughts than you can capture in just a few days. However, as you work on capturing, sorting, and then storing your thoughts then I believe this will greatly reduce the chaos that lives in many people’s minds.


One way that you can jumpstart this process is by taking out a scrap piece of paper and start writing out everything that comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small. If it is on your mind, then it is big enough to take up space and therefore should be dealt with in due time. Sort these items immediately and then see how you feel.


You can go around the house and do this same thing. This works especially well with the desk that you use for work. Sort items in these different categories. Once the items are sorted, then it is easy to take the next step to start tackling the pile. If you work a little every day, then you will eventually get through it and should feel much more relaxed afterward.


For full information on David Allen’s system and the interesting nuances of how it works so well, check out “Getting Things Done.” As I said before, it is quite an extensive system, but I believe it would be beneficial to follow completely or to simply use some of the techniques that he lays out.


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