Store Thoughts in the Appropriate Place as Soon as You Have Them

I have learned one thing from productivity expert David Allen: write down thoughts, ideas, questions, or tasks as soon as you have them.

Many people focus on organizing their information and data. But first you need to collect and store your own new thoughts and ideas. You need to be disciplined about capturing them as soon as they come to mind. It's easy to create folders and wikis on your computer. It's harder to pause a conversation or meeting, or lean over to your bedside table when only half-awake, so you can jot down a thought you may need to remember.

I have pads of paper on my bedside table, on my desk, in my briefcase, and am always scribbling things down on my PDA.

Buried in a Wired article Allen summarizes this philosophy clearly:

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my quasi-scientific approach to sustained laziness is the value of storing thoughts in appropriate places, as soon as I have them. That means parking them where I will later evaluate their merit (or lack thereof) and dispose of them accordingly. Having a thought once is what the mind is for; having the same thought twice, in the same way, for the same reason, is a waste of time and energy. I also found out that having a place for good ideas produced more of them, and more often.

That last sentence is true, too. In my book I talk about how most business ideas sprout forth from your "fringe thoughts" list.

Bottom Line: If you're thinking the same thought twice, in the same way, for the same reason, you're wasting time and energy. Store your thoughts / tasks as you soon as you think them.

6 comments on “Store Thoughts in the Appropriate Place as Soon as You Have Them
  • I’m a big believer in GTD and David Allen’s work. If you want to take Allen’s idea-capturing to a whole new level I highly recommend “Evernote.” Did wonders for me.

  • I like this idea. With varying degrees of success I’m trying to promptly record ideas about outstanding issues on projects at work. When all my to-dos are captured I feel less stressed as I’ve got all the info needed to make a proper plan.

    It also means that when other team members are free to help, I’ve got a record of what they can take off my plate. When I’m not organised, my response to offers of assistance is ‘no, I think I’m alright thanks’, because I’m too overwhelmed and unclear about what tasks are outstanding to use their time effectively.

  • For decades now I’ve carried a small note book in my shirt pocket (or leave it beside my bed) and when I have an idea, I jot it down before I forget.

    It’s disheartening when you have a great idea half way through the night and then can’t recall what it was.


  • Totally agree with the ‘storing your thoughts bit’ (read up on George Carlin – they say he has an amazing system of organising his ideas)….but most thoughts aren’t worth remembering.
    Its the thoughts you think about twice, 3 times and more are the ones that have some meaning too them

  • The thoughts that come often unsought as it were a drop into the mind are commonly the most valuable of any we have. They are kinda’ graven in stone, don’t leave you alone. You don’t need a log book to store them, because you can’t get much sleep after it crosses your mind. [But then we live in an age Ours is the age that is proud of machines that think and suspicious of men who try to 🙂

    The thoughts that don’t get auto-saved in memory often aren’t worth the keep. This is because often we think with our hopes or fears or wishes than with our minds. That explains why mostly the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.

  • Thanks Ben for highlighting this technique. I just came to realize how beneficial it is. A song that had been sidetracked in my head literally for months (probably more than a year) I recorded in Garage Band and now the song is not in my head anymore. The song isn’t DONE but, more importantly, I feel my mind is freer to perhaps conjure up the B part. A distracting business idea I jotted down in an email and shot it off to some friends and now I don’t think about it anymore. I feel like a weight is lifted and I suddenly have more time. This is great!

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