I am always looking for productivity hacks that help me be more productive, especially those that save me time or make my life a little easier. Over the past year, I’ve tried a few things to help me stay on task and stay organized.
I’ve tried different apps for managing my time and my projects. I’ve tried what, at times, seems like every different system and process. I’ve used everything from simple to-do apps that do one thing well to complicated tools with all kinds of features and complexity.
Generally, I’m a big fan of simple hacks or systems that don’t require a lot of additional overhead since I’m not very likely to stick with anything that adds more work to my life. By far, the most powerful productivity hack I tried this year is easily the most simple as well.
I call it the nightstand notebook method. I call it that because, well, I keep a notebook on my nightstand that I can use to jot down things I’m thinking about at the end of the day. Usually, that’s things I need to remember to do in the morning or just ideas that I don’t want to forget.
Sometimes it’s an idea for a column, or an email I want to be sure to send. Other times, it’s a personal task that I want to be sure gets added to my calendar. The point is, whatever I’m thinking about at night, I write it down in the notebook. I write things down before I lay down in bed to dump whatever is in my brain. Then, as I lay there, if I can’t fall asleep because I start thinking about something, I write that down as well.
That’s it, that’s the entire system–a notebook and a pen that I use to do a brain dump before I go to bed. Of course, the notebook on the nightstand is pretty pointless if you don’t actually use it. But if you do, it’s extremely powerful. Here’s why:
The first reason is that having a place to dump ideas or to-dos gives me a headstart on organizing the things I need to work on the next morning. I can quickly jot down things I want to be sure to do and organize them into a to-do list for the following morning.
I’m able to think back over the day and process through all of the tasks and projects I’m working on and write down where there are holes or things I need to do. Then, when I wake up, I know exactly what I should start on without spending a lot of time figuring out what to do.
The other may be less obvious, but don’t mistake that for less important: Writing things down lets me stop thinking about them, which helps me get to sleep a lot faster. When I write something down, I don’t have to worry about remembering it in the morning.
That means my brain can fully shut down at night and I can sleep. It would be hard to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep to a productive morning. For that matter, even if you’re not a morning person, getting enough sleep is the key to providing your brain with the energy it needs to work well.
I think one of the main reasons many people have a hard time sleeping is that their brain is holding on to important information and ideas. You don’t want to forget so you just keep turning it over in your brain. That’s not helpful, and it usually just leads to sleeplessness and stress.
Far more useful is to have a place to put that idea or thought until you’re able to work on it, and the very act of writing it down gives your brain permission to let it go. You’ll be more organized when you start your day in the morning, and as a bonus, you’ll be better rested with the energy you need to actually tackle the important things you need to do. It doesn’t get more powerful–or simple–than that.