7 Powerful Reasons Why You Should Write Things Down

by Henrik Edberg


Image by mezone (license).



“When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
Michael Leboeuf

“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.”
Francis Bacon, Sr.

One of the simplest but most powerful habits I have established in my life in the past few years is to write things down. Why is it so important?

1. If your memory is anything like mine it’s like a leaking bucket.

Since I’ve started to write things down more often I have also noticed when reviewing old notes how much my memory can leak. The memory isn’t very reliable. Every time we remember something we recreate what happened rather than just replay a film from our mental archives. The recreation is directed by a number of things such our beliefs, our emotional state at the time and our self-image.

What you remember about an event may differ quite a bit from what someone else remembers. There is a wide variety of interpretations of reality. And then when you try to remember that interpretation of an event later on it can change even more. So we need some kind of system outside of ourselves.

2. Ideas don’t stay for long.

Fine or awesome ideas can pop up at the strangest times but they tend to not stay for long in your head. So you need to capture them fast or they are gone in the wind.

3. Written goals are very important.

One thing a lot of very successful self improvement writers – Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and so on – go on and on about is the importance of having written goals. A written goal brings clarity and focus. It gives you a direction. And by rewriting your goals you not only reaffirm what your goals are.You may also find new insights that bring more clarity and focus to your goal and life.

A written goal is also a powerful reminder that you can use to keep yourself on the right track when you feel stressed and may consider making hasty decisions.

4. To remind yourself of what to focus on. Often we get caught up in our everyday business and lose track of what is most important. To keep yourself on track – instead of just keeping yourself busy with low-priority tasks – simply write down a reminder that can stop your thoughts when you see it and guide you back on track again. It can for example be your current major goal. I also like reminders like: “is this useful?” and “what is the most important thing I can do right now?” Write down your reminder and  put that reminder where you can’t avoid seeing throughout your day.

5. Unloading your mental RAM. When you don’t occupy your mind with having to remember every little thing – like how much milk to get – you become less stressed and it becomes easier to think clearly. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons to write things down. Feeling  calmer and more relaxed does not only improves your health but also makes life easier and more smooth and effective.

6. Clearer thinking. You can’t hold that many thoughts in your head at once. If you want to solve a problem it can be helpful to write down your thoughts, facts and feelings about it. Then you don’t have to use your for mind for remembering, you can instead use it to think more clearly. Having it all written down gives you an overview and makes it easier to find new connections that can help you solve the problem.

7. Get to know yourself and your life better and improve long-term focus on what’s important. You can use a journal as a way to keep an overview of your thinking over a longer time span and to recognize both positives and negatives in your thinking and actions.

You may, for example, think of yourself as a healthy person but realize when you read through your journal that you have only been out running four times this month. Or perhaps you have an image of your life going pretty well but discover when reading through your notes for the last month that you are negative about your job or a relationship in almost every entry.

By writing things down you can help yourself to spot trouble and get yourself back on track and keep yourself there within a larger timeframe. Or your journal may tell you something that you haven’t really paid much attention to about yourself and/or about your life. And so this can bring clarity.

So those are seven of the most important reasons why I write everything down. How to capture your thoughts? Well, that’s up to you.

At the moment I usually use Word or a pen and paper to think things through, TeuxDeux.com for my to-do lists and when I’m out somewhere and get an idea I type it down in my cell phone. But try different ways and find the ones that you feel most comfortable and effective with.

If you found this article helpful, please share it on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)





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{ 23 comments }

Sandra Lee September 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Memory is definitely a challenge for me too. I really enjoyed reading the other reasons, giving me more impetus to write things down. I especially liked your point about how we may have one idea about ourselves but look quite differently when we review our journal and notes. These are a deeper looking at the benefit of writing things down. Thanks!

Eduard - People Skills Decoded September 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Very convincing, although I only really need one reason and that is the fact we forget easy.

I had so many good ideas which I forgot because I didn’t write them down that I can’t remember! See? My point exactly :)

Daniel Sharkov September 30, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Let’s say in the beginning of the day I had thought of doing something later on. In most cases I totally forget about it and remember it when it’s far too late. On the other hand trying to memorize something can be quite a frustrating task. So I agree that writing things down can definitely save some headaches. Great article! :)

Michelle @ Following Your Joy September 30, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Henrik,

Great reminder! I always tell my clients to do a ‘brain download’ of all the things swimming around in their brain. From there, you can start to categorize things and then prioritize them. It’s amazing how much more efficient you can be when you get things in writing! I just heard a statistic that we are 8 times more likely to complete a task when we have it written down. Not bad!

Thanks for the insight…and inspiration.

Guru Talks September 30, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I want to add one thing, if one is writing down password then just write 70% or 80% of the original one, i.e., if password is : google#232, it should be written down as-> g….gle#2…….2 . It helps to feel safe when diary is missed somewhere, or stolen.

Guru Eduardo September 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm

right on, good article. A pen and paper…don’t leave home without them. Ok, I always carry 3X5 cards in my pocket to capture the next epiphany.

I find if you don’t record those fleeting thoughts, it’s like the universe says…’you idiot, you didn’t keep the last great idea, so I’m not sending you anymore’

Ryan Biddulph September 30, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Hi Henrik,

Super value in this post.

The mind often distorts things while pen and paper deals in absolute. The #7 tips resonates with me, recalling how many times I thought something yet referring back to my written goals reveals a different story. Thoughts are airy and transient. Record them immediately or watch them vanish.

Thanks for sharing your insight.

Ryan

Joanna Poppink, MFT October 1, 2010 at 12:43 am

Writing “things” down is a seemingly simple act yet mobilizes forces that can change your life is wonderful ways. I appreciate your limiting yourself to seven benefits. A blog post would be much too long if you covered all the benefits of writing things down.

As a psychotherapist I encourage clients to write things down in any way that they can. Some keep a dream journal. Some free write. Some write snippets of conversations that effect them either positively or negatively.

A glimpse into one notation or a careful reading of daily writings both have benefits in discovering what a person cares about or where a person is vulnerable or is particularly effective.

And this too is a small part of the total value in writing things down.

Thank you for including this topic on your blog.

Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles psychotherapist
author: Healing Your Hungry Heart

Ahmed October 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Great post! Writing it down is writing your future in my opinion!

Dennis Callahan October 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Good reasons. I also write down things often. For #1 – if you want more details, try reading Stumbling Upon Happiness by DanielGilbert, if you haven’t already.

I carry a piece of paper with me everywhere. In additional to your ideas for writing things down, I also send myself voice messages and/or record my voice on my phone.

Travis Webster-Booth October 1, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Wow, talk about synchronicity. I just wrote a post titled “The Moleskine Habit” last week which is very much along the same lines as this one.

A few things I particularly like about your post:

-Francis Bacon, Sr.’s quote. That’s brilliant. Unsought ideas that are generated from a deeper level of conscious are what it’s all about.

-Writing down goals specifically. I just finished Bryan Tracy’s Goals!, and he goes as far as to say that we should write down our top 10-15 goals every day. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to that single idea.

Good stuff!

Darren Poke October 3, 2010 at 11:28 am

I read that book by Tracy a few months ago and I really liked that idea.

Thanks again for a great post Henrik!

Scott Bergman October 2, 2010 at 3:24 am

This are very good reasons to write things down. I do it some of the time but not near enough for it to be effective. I need to get better at it. I’ve lost quite a few really good ideas by not writing them down.

Thanks for the article.

Pennykers October 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I just like the idea of letting go of all the worries in my mind, so I have space for RAM. Great post and I will need to explore the blog more fully.

Jay October 3, 2010 at 5:11 am

Henrik,

I love the Michael Leboeuf quote. I know journaling improves my focus and concentration and this quote helps to explain why.

Sietse | HowToLiveWow.com October 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Great post. What I enjoy doing each now and then, is to look back in old notebooks. It gives you an idea of where you stood at a certain point in life, what you were thinking, what your goals were… I can’t hold back from smiling if I see an old idea written down somewhere and conclude that I have actually achieved or manifested it! You might also find some ideas that were not useful back then, but suddenly fall in place when you read it again, days, weeks, months or even years later.

Tom October 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm

This is an excellent post and something that I’ve realized I need to do a couple of years ago. Trying to remember everything leads to stress, forgetfulness, etc. and can be eliminated just be carrying a small notebook.

QuotesAboutHappiness October 4, 2010 at 6:33 am

Thank you so much for the nice post. looking forward for more blogs

Henrik Edberg October 4, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Thanks you all for adding your great insights and tips about writing things down! :)

Marit October 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Hei, Henrik!

I miss the opportunity to search through your earlier entries based on categories. I find it very useful. I would be very happy if you could put every entry into one or more categories or tags, so to speak.

Please think of that!

Love your blog. Many interesting thoughts :)

Hugs from Norge =)

Roman Soluk October 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I like your words, Henrik, about written goals. They are really very important as we can concentrate on them, and it becomes easier to achieve them.

Very nice post! I’ve enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing!

Dina October 7, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Some of my best ideas have come through my mind by passing thoughts — I’m glad that I wrote many of them down!

Gabriel October 25, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Haha just like lawyers, that’s why they always want things on a written document. ;)

I do know that successful people always tend to keep a journal they write early in the morning, and then once again a night. That gives them a larger higher perspective on things, because we tend to not be able to come up with ideas and become clear of things unless we get a 3rd person view of it, like trying to navigate in a maze. You will be able to find your out a lot faster by looking at the larger 3rd person view maze than in your 1st person perspective.

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