David Allen on Why You Need to Create Lists

Do you feel like your mind is overwhelmed with information and unable to process the onslaught of ideas and information coming at you? As the pace of life picks up speed, it’s increasingly harder to stay focused and keep your mind productive.

When Harvard Business Review asked productivity expert David Allen about the biggest roadblock to productivity that he observes when he enters an organization for the first time, he said, “People don’t capture stuff that has their attention. They don’t acknowledge it or objectify it. And it keeps rolling around in the organizational psyche as well as the personal psyche, draining energy and creating incredible psychic residue.”

This mental overload of information–representing hundreds of ideas and concepts–goes into a “black hole.” It isn’t captured, prioritized, or acted upon. Next steps are rarely identified and important insights are lost in a land of no return. Why is this? Because we don’t create lists. Allen says, “You need lists because your brain isn’t good at keeping them.” He further observes, “Your head is for having ideas, not holding them. Just dumping everything out of your head and externalizing it is a huge step, and it can have a significant effect.”

By creating lists, we make room for our minds to think about the right things. We free up thinking space for creativity, reflection, innovation, and clear decision-making. We capture important thoughts that need our attention…just not right now. And we develop a system to prioritize action steps and establish deadlines.

Question: Do you agree with David Allen’s observation about lists? What method do you use to keep lists and keep your thoughts organized?