I heard a talk (actually just part of a talk) by time management consultant David Allen the other day. He was talking about the system he created called Getting Things Done. Allen discussed the core concepts on which his system is based. Those concepts are worth taking a look at and thinking about how they apply to our daily lives.
The first thing Allen does is look at our brains and how they work. He suggests that our brains are not designed to store data. They are actually designed to be creative and intuitive. As an example he asks when do you remember that you need to put batteries in the flashlight? When you are near that batteries? No, when you try to use the flashlight again. A simple example but one we’ve probably all experienced at one time or another.
The solution according to Allen is to manage things like task lists outside of our brain. It doesn’t matter how…electronically, paper lists, even writing on the back of your hand. But don’t use valuable brain power doing something the brain isn’t designed to do well. I will admit I grumbled when I heard this. I’ve never been a big list maker and roll my eyes at those people that say “you should make a list.” It turns out that they might be on to something.
The reason that it is important to conserve brain space is this. The human brain can actively manage 7 plus or minus 2 things at one time. That means if you are good you can handle 9 and if you are not as good you may only be able to manage 5. If your brain has limited active computing power, why spend it doing something that can easily be managed externally?
His next point builds on the idea of efficiently managing brain power. Allen argues that if you have limited capacity, why use it on things you can’t control at this moment. That’s right, why spend time worrying about something you can’t do anything about right now? All of the time we spend spinning our mind about things that might or might not happen could be spend on things we could actually be impacting at this moment. If you can’t do something right now then don’t spend valuable capacity on it.
Think about how you could begin applying these ideas in your life right now. Keeping lists. Focusing only on things that you can impact right now. (That sure sounds a lot like mindfulness!) Letting go of spinning on the unknown future.
These concepts alone are enough to create big impact on our lives and ability to accomplish the things we want to accomplish but there are actually more. Next week I’ll share the rest of the ideas from his talk