How To Get Yourself To Write Down Your Intentions

Writing things down doesn't have to be complicated.

Hey, at least he is trying to write his goals down. Also, it’s much easier than this. Promise.
(The lady in purple finds nothing unusual about this scene.)

Writing things down. It turns rust into gold flakes and anthrax into parmesan cheese. Magic beneficial transformations aside, it is astonishing how much more success people have when they take the simple step to write down their intentions…

  • This study found that people who write down their goals and tell a friend (with weekly updates) are 33% more likely to accomplish them. That’s a significant and tangible increase! Would you like to accomplish 33% more of your life’s goals and dreams?
  • Another study found that writing down thoughts made them more powerful and present in a person’s mind (and physically throwing away negative thoughts written on paper actually “discarded” them mentally too).

But still, we don’t do it. The real reason is pretty simple, but it is NEVER talked about, as if the answer is obvious. Ha!The main clue is in this thought process. See if this looks familiar…

  1. “I should write these goals or ideas down.”
  2. “Hmm…No, not there, I’ll lose it. Not there either.”
  3. *thought path terminated*

It’s so easy to cut off a thought, even if it is a good, healthy one. With dozens of other thoughts and ideas swarming around in your prefrontal cortex, clamoring for your attention, it’s a very competitive environment in there. You’ll feel that slight discomfort of not having a clear answer to “where should I write it down?” and several of the easier thoughts happily present themselves.

“Hey, it’s easier to think about chocolate. Just saying. Walk downstairs and get some!” ~ Corrupted Neurons

And just like that, you postpone the thought to write something down. Each time you repeat this, the cycle is further ingrained. When you hit that uncomfortable spot, you quickly head for the mental couch. Well sorry, it’s time your brain got off the couch and ordered your hand to pick up a pen. The stakes are too high.

If you don’t write down your goals and ideas, YOU ARE WASTING YOUR LIFE. (tweet this intense quote) Can you tell that I’m yelling at myself right now? Because I am. Recently, I’ve let life distract me from writing things down, and I’m in a volcanic rage about it. This is serious, guys. It’s the difference between steering your life where you want it to go or letting the world’s current take you down a road you hate.

If you’re convinced now that writing stuff down is a good idea, read on. If you’re unconvinced, subscribe and I’ll convince you. (Win win?)

The Problem That Keeps People From Writing Things Down

If you don’t write things down, even when you know it would benefit your life, it’s because you don’t have a system that you enjoy using and trust.

Requirement One 

CHOOSE ONE SYSTEM TO TRY: What type of organization system are you going to use? GTD, my system, a simple daily task list or variation,  a calendar schedule, or your own system?

If you choose the wrong system, it doesn’t matter. There is no limit to how many systems you can try. The goal is to find something that works for you and your life. But don’t imagine what might work for youExperiment.

You can try a complex, well-designed system like Getting Things Done. It’s thorough and requires a lot of “management,” which is why I now use a different system. You can try my system, which is like a combination of Getting Things Done and a simple daily task list, with an emphasis on habits. I have a few tweaks I’d like to make to it, as I’m going to incorporate one of those huge desk calendars (another post on this later).

An organizational system is simply a plan for how you will manage your life. Some people might go super simple and make a daily task list. I love this. It is simplicity at its best, because it puts the focus on the doing of things, not the managing of things, if you know what I mean. But even the common task list has variations – some choose one thing they must get done today, others choose the top three agenda items, and others don’t count their list items at all and do as much as they can.

My focus system is more than a task list because it accommodates life goals, projects, and daily habits, which are very important to me.

Want to know the worst system? Not having one.

If you don’t have a system, try one and tweak it until you love it. I don’t believe that there is a perfect life management system that fits everyone. We have different personalities, life responsibilities, and preferences for how to do things. A good idea is to start with a simple base and add things as you go along. Maybe you start off with a daily task list and decide that you’d like to track a daily habit, and later you decide that you want to add projects to the mix. It’s best to start small because it increases the chance that you’ll stick with it.

Requirement Two

CHOOSE ONE TYPE OF “NOTEPAD” TO TRYComputer/phone (digital organization), a big calendar, notepad, or dry erase board?

Originally, I had this as step one, but I think that the “notepad” you choose largely depends on what type of system you choose. If my system involves a calendar, I’ll obviously need a physical or digital calendar. If my system requires constant tweaking, I’m not going to choose something that involves a non-erasable pen or a digital system that isn’t flexible. And if my lifestyle is always on the go, my system and notepad will not likely be based at home or on my desktop computer (unless it is online and has syncing mobile apps).

And again, I stress try because if you “choose wrong,” it doesn’t matter. Writing your goals and daily tasks down is risk-free to try. You can do it on a dirty napkin. (tweet this out of context) Of course, when you realize that old mustard changed your task from “feed the cat” to “food the cat,” you’ll see that mustard-covered items are a poor choice. BUT…you can try something else then.

Stop “planning” to find the perfect note-taking organizational device. You’ll find out by trying different options, seeing what you (dis)like about them, and adjusting.

I prefer the non-digital route. And several studies suggest that physically writing something down has a greater cognitive impact than typing it out. It makes sense when you think about it. Typing involves pressing buttons that all feel the same, but you “feel” each letter when you’re writing it by hand.

Digital organization is convenient, I get that. But your computer and cell phone are your TOP TWO sources of distraction (right?). Why would you mix your scheduling/focusing tool with what distracts you the most? That’s dangerous! Also, digital systems are often bloated and cumbersome to manage. I bet you that I’m faster managing my low-tech system than you are at your high-tech one.

You don’t need a complicated system to get things done, but you do need a system.

But hey, I’m going to back off if you love your digital system. All I ask is that you have one and USE it. If you use it and it works for you, then I love it and I love you too.

The Three Things All People Need To Write Down

  1. Write down (occasionally) – Life dreams, goals, and values (what the heck are you living for?) – update this when things change!
  2. Write down (when needed) – What habit you’re forming. Habits are 45% of human behavior and they impact your life more than anything else. They are not optional if you’re serious about improving your life.
  3. Write down (daily) – How today is going to impact what you wrote down in step one and step two – If today’s agenda does not connect with your life’s vision, or worse, you don’t have a life vision, or worst, you have a vision and don’t do anything about it so it eats away at your soul and depresses you, then you’re doing it, life, wrong.

Writing things down isn’t a “neat life tip,” it’s priority #1 in life. Scientifically speaking, your brain can’t handle life by itself (not well anyway). It’s best at processing data and analyzing it, not storing it and analyzing it at the same time. That’s too much. Give your brain a break. Write down your intentions.

When I took time to write down my life, my list numbered 127 things (some of which were multi-step projects). Can you manage 127 things well in your head? You might have even more things than that.

Getting Things Done Tasks

127 to-dos (58 of them were actionable, and the others were reminders and such). The app shown is Toodledo, which I no longer use, because I organize life non-digitally now.

If you don’t write it down, you probably won’t do it. (tweet this powerful quote)

Get a sheet of paper and a pencil. That’s enough to start, and you can transfer it to a “better system” anytime. Brush off the idea that “it isn’t good enough,” because it is not permanent. Something is always better than nothing when it comes down to writing down your goals.

Write down your intentions. Refuse the excuses that just came to mind. They are lies and the time is NOW. Go!

photo by US Mission Geneva

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