10 Reasons for Writing Things Down



“Every word written is a victory against death.” — Michel Butor

Writing things down is a key to effectiveness.

It helps you free up your mind, think on paper, and better organize your thoughts.

If you don’t write things down, your mind spends more time “paper shuffling” and creates its own anxiety.

Writing things down is a powerful habit.  Even if you throw it away, you still get the benefits.

What kinds of things can you write down?   Bright ideas that pop into your head.  Three wins that you want for today.  Three wins that you want for the week.  One-liner reminders.   Your To-Do list.    Your one-liner insights and “ah-has.”  All the things buzzing around in your brain.  Anything keeping you up at night.  Your hopes, your dreams, your goals, and aspirations.  Your fears, anxieties, and concerns.  You get the idea.

10 Reasons to Write Things Down

Why write things down?   Here are some key insights and reminders:

  1. Your mind lies.   Your mind easily distorts things.   That’s a blessing and a curse.   If you write things down, you change perspective.  Now you are looking at it on paper.  Does it still make the same sense as it did in your head?
  2. Think on paper.  When it’s on paper, you can look your challenges in the eyes, and slice them down to size.   Your mind is a powerful thing when it can more objectively look at things instead of swirling them around in your head.
  3. Organize your thoughts.     To write things down, you have to think a little bit to find the words or to figure out what it means.  Right off the bat, the act of trying to write something down shapes your thoughts.   Once it’s down on paper, you can now list things in a way that helps you think.   Whether it’s because you cross things off, or prioritize them, or shuffle them to make you feel good, you are in control.
  4. It sinks in better.  Writing it down creates a little more of an experience, and that helps it stick.
  5. Free up your mind.   When you write something down, you free up the task of having to remember it.   That might not sound like a big deal when it’s just a few things, but you might spend your mind on better things.   And, just imagine when it’s more than a few things, and it’s lots of things on your mind.
  6. Calm your mind.  The Zeigarnik Effect says we tend to hang on to things in our mind, if we don’t finish what we start.   If you write things down, you free up your mind from worrying about what you forgot or what you need to remember.
  7. Let things go.     You can let things naturally slough off by squeezing them out with better things to focus on.    You can also more deliberately let things go, or simply cut them, because now you have a bird’s-eye view.  Decide what matters and what doesn’t.  Let things go that don’t.
  8. Avoid task saturation.   Write things down to avoid task saturation.   Threesigns of task saturation are shutting down, compartmentalizing, and channelizing. Shutting down is when you simply stop performing.  Compartmentalizing and channelizing is when you act busy, but all your doing is organizing and reorganizing lists and doing things sequentially, but not actually producing effective results.
  9. Rehydrate ideas.   You can rehydrate your ideas later on as you need them.
  10. Shelve things.  You can put things on the shelf to worry about at a later time.

3 Habits that Help

Here are three habits that can help you:

  1. Bring a pen and paper on the go.      Bring a little pad of yellow sticky notes around with you.  You can easily write your three wins for the day on it.  You can also jot down your ideas or things that are top of mind.  You can also use it as a scratch pad for your thoughts.
  2. Keep a journal of one-liner insights and reminders.   Write down the one-liner “ah-has” you have throughout your day.   These little ah-has add up quickly.   Stick them in a place that you can easily flip back through each week.   This will sharpen your brain and brighten your day.
  3. Do periodic “Brain Dumps.” Periodically dump your brain.   You know when it’s full, or when it’s getting to the brim.   Dump it down on paper and simply write it down as fast as you can.  Get it off your mind.   Don’t correct yourself as you go, simply dump down all the stuff that’s floating around.  I do a brain dump at the end of my day, in a plain text file and simply name it today’s date, such as “2012-04-11.”   When I’m in a really fast mode, I just dump things on my whiteboard.

You can always choose not to write things down, but now you can make a more thoughtful choice.

You Might Also Like

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  1. I love this JD, thank you! I write daily morning pages (a process by Julia Cameron the author of “The Artist’s Way”). It allows me to “dump” as you say. Often directly after this dump, my mind organizes the next creative project quite effortlessly, or a new idea rises, or I feel a bit of refreshing freedom.
    I also carry a notepad with me everywhere; I find when I am out and around, I am inspired by connecting and it is wonderful to capture the essence of that to create from later.

  2. Love this. I always have a notebook and pen with me to write down everything. Old habit. Golden habit. Thank you for this fabulous post!

  3. Hi JD .. I always have pen and paper at hand .. it’s the organising afterwards and the ‘millions’ of thoughts floating around – sometimes I get to transcribe them .. and refer back to them – useful. Paper and notes fill my life – a constant stream of ideas .. but I am starting to say no to me and filter!! Essential to tidy up the thoughts ..

    Cheers Hilary

  4. @ Joy — I like the idea of daily morning pages, especially before the day begins. It’s a great time to jot down the aspirations and inspiration of a fresh and untained mind.

    @ Vidya — Yes indeed, it’s a “Golden” habit.

    @ Hilary — That’s the trick … turning the ideas into action. What worked me for is building a rhythm of cherry picking my best ideas to act on, from the stream of ideas that flow.

  5. JD

    These are the same reasons why I scaled down to the old-school notebook. I always carry a Moleskine Pocket Notebook everyday for almost a year now 🙂


  6. @ Marlon — There’s a lot to be said for the old-school notebook.

    I tend to use stickies because I can shuffle them around fast, stick them where I need them, or discard them. I can also use them like flash cards.

  7. […] down what your actual tasks are generally, then take it a step further and write detailed to-do lists, or even have-done lists for your actual day. This should take you […]

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