Increase Focus through Writing Down Everything

To be more present, get it all down and into a system.


Bryan Whiting


June 28, 2022

The GTD framework preaches something to the effect of “get every todo item down and into a system. It may take dozens or hundreds of tasks to get it all out.” Essentially, if a task is in your mind, it will slow you down. But if you put it down on paper, it will free your mind to think on other things. Also, more ideas will come.

I’ve put perhaps a hundred things down on paper in the last few days. Interestingly, ideas I had forgotten about came back to my mind. I wrote these down.

There got to a point today though where I had so much on my screen I felt overwhelmed. How will I ever sort through all this mess?

Thankfully, most of the things don’t need to get done and are either “eventually” or “someday maybe” tasks, and not “asap” tasks. So just ignore them.

And secondly, I always “know” what’s most important. This documentation process doesn’t change that. It just helps me to get all the distractions out of my head and down on paper.

Spending time organizing all this stuff seems like a potential waste. But what I realize is that it improves my just-in-time recall. If earlier in the day I planned to buy a dish scrubber in the evening, when the evening rolls around that task magically comes back to my mind. So it’s really just front loading all the decision making and prioritizing. I think our brains are capable of more subconscious processing than we realize.

(Pause entry to buy dish scrubber…) okay, I’m back.

Another idea that’s having an effect on me is the 2 min rule. If a task takes less than 2 min, don’t organize it. Just do it. Powerfully, this mindset helps me to care less about two min tasks. Or, sometimes there’s a tendency to over exaggerate the stress something will cause. Like buying a scrubber could be a 10 min task if you want to find the perfect one. But if you only allocate yourself 2 min, you realize this is only a $6 decision and I have better things to do with my time.

Lastly, I love being deliberate about tasks by writing down the intended outcome of a task. It’s very easy as a data scientist to get swallowed up in all the weeds. Or, rather, when your task is to dig up a gem it’s easy to get distracted by all the weeds that need to be pulled that are in your way. So by being clear about the reason I’m diving into the data in the first place helps me re-surface less scathed. Data are a dirty business…


The effect of the GTD framework?

  1. Less FOMO. By writing down everything I can see clearly that 1) I don’t have time for all of it and 2) the stuff I care about pops up.
  2. I don’t have to worry about what I’m not doing because I can easily say no to it as I say yes to something better.
  3. I can see broader connections between a litany of things. This helps me prioritize what my subconscious has been telling me by nagging me about X ideas.
  4. If I start working on something not in my list it makes me ask if this thing is fealty worth my time when I know I have a ton of other stuff to do. (Recency bias I spoke about in my other blog post.)