How to Become More Productive: The First Thing Winners Do

This 5,000-year-old tool is the key to everything you want in life.
A group of colleagues work together to become more productive

To get the things you want in life, it’s not good enough to be well-educated, to be talented, to be connected.

You’ve got to be able to get things done.

The most productive people in life make the most money. They get the promotions. They’re the reliable friends, the role models.

It’s no wonder many of us spend a lot of time wondering how they achieve everything they do—and how to become more productive ourselves.

I’ll tell you, it all starts with one simple, ancient technique.

Stop trying to run your life off the top of your head and start writing things down. Click To Tweet

For more than 5,000 years, human beings have been writing things down.

That one activity has changed the course of human history many times.

Some of the most successful people in the world have explained how writing things down daily—ideas, lists, goals, priorities—helps them get more done. It’s amazing to me, then, that so few people do it.

I’ve found that a fun, exciting life is a busy life.

You’re going to have more people to see and things to do than you have hours in a day. The only way to keep it from becoming stressful or a big hassle is to keep it organized.

That is the source of all advice on how to become more productive.

Organization requires you to write things down, and keep writing things down. There’s just no way around it.

I’m going to convince you that writing more things down is the first thing you should do if you want a happier, more successful life.

If you’re wondering how to become more productive, you have to start here.

And then I’m going to share some of the critical things you should be writing down if you aren’t already.

Here goes.

Why Writing Things Down Works—from the Biggest to the Smallest Things

A pen and notebook make it easier to write things down

The benefits of writing things down run a huge gamut.

I’m just going to cover those that are most relevant to our productivity.

Writing things down can help you be more productive on the biggest and smallest levels—from your life goals all the way down to your next trip to the grocery store.

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.” —Albert Einstein

Better Focus

First, and most important, writing things down helps us focus in two ways.

  1. Reduces mental clutter: When we write down our to-do lists, shopping lists, reminders and other smaller things, it helps reduce our mental clutter. Our brain doesn’t keep coming back to those items, sending a little stressful jolt of fear that we’re going to forget them.
  2. Dramatically increases our focus on big goals: Simply writing our big goals down instantly increases our focus on accomplishing them, and increases our odds of success. According to a study by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, 60 percent of people who wrote down their goals actually achieved them.

Better Motivation

Writing about what motivates or inspires us can make us do those things more often.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, led a study that found that individuals fundraising for nonprofits devoted 29 percent more of their time to these efforts after writing down the value of their work.

More of the right activity is the key to productivity.

Try writing down what motivates you to do that activity.

Better Learning

Generally, I think you should write things down in whatever way works for you: pen and paper or typing on a keyboard.

But if you’re trying to learn and remember what you’re writing down, research says you should take your notes long-hand.

According to an article in Scientific American, college students who typed their notes on laptops got more down, but those who wrote their notes long-hand understood the information better and were able to apply it better.

If you’re trying to discover how to become more productive, learning faster and better is a pretty big piece of the puzzle.

What to Write Down

Life travels too fast to write everything down, but whenever you can, write the following things down:

  • Lists: Reduce your mental clutter and focus your time and energy on the most important things each day with to-do lists.
  • Reminders and agendas: Save time, reduce wasted effort, and cut stress in half. Don’t make 3 phone calls to a client when you could have handled the questions in 1. Don’t forget important things that could create big hurdles for you.
  • Checklists: Limit the mental energy and time you have to spend making sure that every important step is getting done for tasks you have to perform often. And when we use checklists, we can delegate without worry.
  • Life goals: See the explanation above. If you really want them to happen, take the six minutes to write them down.
  • Activity related to goals: Track your activity to make progress clear and to turn sometimes tough work into a game.

Where to Write Things Down

A wall of post-it notes can help you be more productive

Everybody is different in the organization habits that work for them. What works for me is to write things down anywhere and everywhere.

  • Calendar app
  • Note pad apps
  • Post-it-notes
  • Scraps of paper when nothing else is available, which I then stick in my wallet
  • With my camera in my phone (like a photo of where my car is parked at the airport)
  • In my Bible, which is like my life goal journal
  • Some people write on their hands, but so far I’ve been able to avoid that.
  • Documents with important notes in Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage apps

We have a million and one tools for writing things down these days—including of course, the mighty pen. Take advantage of them, starting now, and discover how to become more productive every day. What is your favorite method to write things down? On a computer, on your phone, or the classic pen and paper? Let me know in the comments below. 

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