Want to quickly overcome overwhelm right now?
Take a moment and list down everything you have in your mind.
From "replace remote control batteries" to "plan dad's birthday party" and "finalize proposal for client," we humans have about a hundred different things on our minds at any given moment.
Notice how simply thinking of all these things is enough to make anyone feel stressed and in turn, cause us to be unproductive. We tend to become so crippled by the thought that we unconsciously resort to doing all the wrong things, end up feeling unfulfilled at the end of the day, and sadly, repeat the same cycle day after day.
Fortunately, one effective first-step exercise to solve this issue is to write things down. As trivial as it may seem, it has significant and scientifically-proven benefits that can turn chaos into order in the most basic sense.
Here are eight powerful benefits of writing things down:
1. Writing things down helps you record everything that has your attention
Gone are the days that humans can remember everything they need to know and do. Nowadays, we constantly need to be on top of things, often too many things, that it’s more and more common to feel overwhelmed or experience information overload.
The issue here is that while information, tasks, distractions, and responsibilities keep increasing, the space in our brains and the number of hours we have in our days remain the same.
Writing things down is a simple yet powerful way to record anything and everything that has your attention —
your client meetings, grocery shopping list, that “big idea” you thought of in the subway, your business strategies, the habits you’re trying to develop, that quote you liked, that song lyrics you heard, your mother-in-law’s birthday
— and therefore have access to them whenever necessary.
Think of the files and software programs in your computer. Instead of having all of them visible in your desktop, they are most likely tucked away in folders and labeled in categories. So when the time comes that you need to access them, you know where they are or at least, you can find them through a search box.
This strategy is also one of the core components of David Allen's teachings. As the author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done suggests, our minds are for having ideas, not storing them (more on this in #7).
2. Writing things down helps clear your mind
Once you write everything down, you’ll notice a sense of relief, as if a weight was lifted off your shoulders. Even if you haven’t done anything on your list just yet, there is a short period of transformation in which your brain goes from utter chaos to the first stages of organization.
Use this moment to take a deep breath and assure yourself that you are in control, that you're well on your way to prioritization and then action.
3. Writing things down helps clarify your goals, priorities, and intentions
Do you know what’s more powerful than having clear goals?
It’s having clear goals written down.
By having your goals, priorities, and intentions in front of you in writing, you’re forced to literally see and evaluate each of them.
Which do you really resonate with? Which are too vague and still needs tweaking? Which should you prioritize? Which can you defer for later?
For example, if you write down “start a blog” on a piece of paper, you’ll see that it’s obviously too vague and unmeasurable. You can then revise this to be more specific and actionable so you can get started on doing it and consequently, know when you will have accomplished it.
4. Writing things down helps keep you motivated
No matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, motivation doesn’t last. You’ll notice yourself pumped up and energetic in sporadic periods only to sink back into a rabbit hole of self-doubt and hesitation a few days later.
Even if you have the strongest and most relevant of goals, you need to write things down in order to maintain your resolve and remind yourself of your purpose on a regular basis.
Whether you have them listed in your phone, stuck on the fridge, taped to your mirror, or jotted down in your planner, it’s best to keep your goals visible as a constant reminder.
5. Writing things down helps you recognize and process your emotions
It seems everyone is so “busy” nowadays and unfortunately, busy-ness leads to stress, anxiety, and even more serious health problems.
In fact, according to the American Medical Association, stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease. Fortunately, writing things down is one way to help significantly reduce all of that.
Because you're forced to put your emotions to writing, you can process your thoughts (whether positive or negative) and feelings at a much deeper level than simply thinking about it. It’s also a form of release or therapy whenever you’re feeling angry, depressed, or overwhelmed.
6. Writing things down encourages daily progress
Before anyone tries to improve themselves, their thoughts, or their actions, the first step should always be to evaluate your past and current situation.
By writing things down, you’d have a record of what you did, thought of, and acted on so this helps you reflect on what worked and what didn’t. You can gauge your strengths and weaknesses and identify how you spend your time and energy.
As the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis once said,
“Always carry a notebook. Write everything down… That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!”
Here are 10 other industry leaders who write things down:
Richard Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group
David Allen, productivity consultant and author of Getting Things Done
Tim Ferriss, podcaster and author of The 4-Hour Workweek
Marie Forleo, life coach and motivational speaker
Tony Robbins, motivational speaker and author of Awaken the Giant Within
Oprah, media giant and former talk show host of the Oprah Winfrey Show
JK Rowling, novelist and author of the Harry Potter series
Hal Elrod, motivational speaker and author of The Miracle Morning
Robin Sharma, writer and leadership speaker
Michael Hyatt, motivational speaker and author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
7. Writing things down enables a higher level of thinking, and therefore, more focused action
When your brain isn’t busy remembering everything, your brain can then process anything. It’s when you’re not overwhelmed that you become free to intellectually analyze and ask important questions.
Given all the things I need to do, which one will have the biggest impact on my life?
Which 20% of my activities yield 80% of my results?
Which activities can I eliminate, automate, or delegate?
You'll find that what we don't do sometimes matter more than what we actually do. For this reason, writing things down can help our brains prioritize which we should focus on and act on at any given moment.
8. Writing things down develops your sense of gratitude
Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential media personalities of all time, is known to keep a gratitude journal. As someone who overcame so many obstacles to succeed in her field, she knows how important it is to stay grounded and be grateful for the things she has.
Whether it's your loved ones, your accomplishments, your learnings, your situation, or your prized possessions, writing down what you're grateful for on a regular basis helps you connect with everything you deem important. As an antidote to a "more is more" mentality, doing so will motivate you to keep going and be mindful of what you already have instead of what you have yet to accomplish or attain.
Writing things down is an easy yet effective way to be productive and deal with day-to-day overwhelm. Follow in the steps of today's industry giants and reap the benefits of having visible reminders, clear thought processes, emotional stability, and even a grateful heart simply by using an old-fashioned pen and paper.