"Write down everything" is one of the premises of most time-management systems (at least in GTD and DIT). The importance of the concept of "getting things out of your head" is obvious. As David Allen says, "your head is a good place to have ideas, but not to hold them".
This is great also because it it makes you conscious of what you what to do, protecting you from random factors. For example, if I write down ’mail pic to friends’ instead of jumping to that task in an impulse immediately after I have come up with it, I may be able to finish the task I was doing.
But writing everything down has at least one disadvantage: we need to stop doing whatever we are doing to actually find our trusted medium and write it!
In fact, for each task, no matter how insignificant, you come up with you have at least three costs.
- Write it down. This cost may be decomposed into finding the right place to write the task and actually writing it. If you use paper and pencil, you may count the time it takes to move your eyes away from the screen, find the paper, the pencil, and write the task. If you use a daily planner, agenda, or calendar, the added cost is to find the place where the task belongs. If you use a computer. the cost is to bring the Personal Information Manager (PIM) program to focus, and then finding the place where the task belongs.
- Review. After you collect a bunch of tasks you have to do some mucking around with them, e.g., grouping them, tagging them, assigning them to projects, and for the most extremely ordered, assigning effort, urgency and who knows which other attributes
- Find, and cross out (update) the task once it’s done
These are tiny tasks. The problem is not so much the time it takes to do them, but the fact that they interrupt your flow. (see graph: the times *I* use the program are the green bars; they are spread all over my working day!). I have measured the time I spend on my current time-management tool, Agenda at once. Although it decreased with time of usage, the average is still quite high, at 11 about minutes and a half per day. I have also logged times when I was using MyLife Organized and ToDoList for about the same number of days (let me know if you want to see similar graphs) and the average times where 17:30 and 14:35 respectively. People using paper and pencil may think that they spend less time doing this, but as far as I know nobody has measured the length of the interruption of finding pen, agenda or paper, looking for the right place to annotate the task, etc.
This is not something I can ignore. About 20 mins a day can get you a lot of things, e.g., learning a lot of vocabulary in a new language.
But the main problem is that you have to stop for each task, no matter how insignificant, and do your little ’writing down ceremony’; This can break the work flow. So that is the forth cost (and in my view, the most important one) of having a time-management system in place.
So is it worth it to keep a time-management system? I still think so (I do use one), but I think we should be aware of the costs as well.