This Week’s Tech Tip is about finding ways to stay on top of what’s important.

Let’s be a little less techy this time and talk about a way to leverage tech to make your life easier. One of the most important skills I’ve learned, ever, is to get out of the habit of trying to keep track of everything in my head.

Keeping everything in your head creates a lot of cognitive overhead. Trying to remember details, deadlines, and “things you need to do” doesn’t leave much room for thinking. It creates a ton of anxiety, too. Have you ever felt as you’ve grown older and taken on more responsibilities that you aren’t as sharp and creative anymore? Some of that is due to keeping too much “top of mind.”

The other problem, of course, is that we often forget what we’re supposed to remember.

Years ago I learned that I perform better if I clear all of that stuff out so I can think. The way I do this is to record things I need to remember in a system I keep specifically for these things. I then create a routine where I check that system periodically. When I’m at a place and time where I can work on the items in my system, I do so.

This isn’t just the standard “to do” list. You want more than just a list of things that need to be done. Sure, when you first think of an item, you need to get it out of your head and into your system right away, so you don’t forget. A couple of times a day, though, you need to go through your list and give each item some context. If you’re working from home, trying to work on something that requires you to be in the office doesn’t make much sense, for example. A writing task may require a block of uninterrupted time, where returning calls might involve a series of short activities. A family thing is different than a work thing.

For more details on this sort of system I highly recommend the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Allen provides you with all of the detail you need to figure out your own best way of getting things out of your head.

When Allen first wrote his book there weren’t a lot of great digital systems to use as an “inbox.” Allen recommends – and it’s still not a bad idea – to keep a notebook and write things down. There’s no doubt this works best for some people.

It never worked that well for me. I spent a lot of years looking for something better. In the end, I found you could spend a great deal of time trying different software and systems and not doing what you really need to be doing. Don’t get caught up in that. Find something that’s reasonably easy to use and available everywhere you think you’ll need access to your system.

Asana

For me, that ended up being a product called Asana. I can access Asana on my notebook, my tablet, and my phone. I can even add or check tasks from Slack. When I think of something I need to remember or a task I need to complete it’s easy to enter. I can triage my inbox easily from any of these devices by adding tags, which provide the context. If the task is something a colleague needs to tackle rather than me I can assign it to them. I can add people to a task item and then discuss it with them via the comment system. Asana has become so ubiquitous in our lives we barely even think about using it anymore. It’s just how we work.

Asana might not be the tool for you and that doesn’t matter. What matters is adopting something that works, and then using it, always. Use it so much that the tool itself becomes second nature. Do that, and before long you’ll find your mind more clear and focused, and your days much more productive!

Brightworks Group is a best in class Technology Success Provider (TSP) primarily serving the Midwest. We have extensive experience and expertise providing IT solutions for a variety of industries including healthcare practices, engineering and design firms and financial institutions.

Check back in soon for our next Tech Tip!