There’s no shortage of productivity tips that promise you you’ll get twice as much done in half the time, and for time-starved entrepreneurs, that’s alluring. Sometimes they really do work: one mom blogger, for example, built a million-dollar business in part by using a simple productivity hack.
But finding the time to implement them may be another matter. Business owners often feel like time is their scarcest resource. Just look at a recent business banking survey from Nav that found that 50% of business owners without a business bank account want to open one– but haven’t had the time to set one up.
If you’re looking to save time and avoid wasting time, here’s one simple strategy worth trying, and it’s virtually guaranteed to work if you implement it: write down everything you need or want to do as soon as it comes to mind.
I learned this tip from Mike Vardy, founder of Productivityist.com, when he spoke at a conference I attended. “Write it down,” I recall him saying. “Your brain is a lousy filing cabinet.”
Vardy was suggesting that instead of trying to keep track of what you need to do in your head, keep track of it in some sort of written format, whether that’s traditional pen and paper or some kind of electronic tracking. “Capture everything, regret nothing,“ is one of his mantras.
When I really put his advice to work, I found it made a huge difference in my personal and professional life. Writing down things I need to do for work reduces my stress and saves time since I am not sorting through emails or racking my brain to try to figure out what’s due when. For personal tasks, this means I can avoid making unnecessary trips to the store because I forgot to pick up the one thing I originally went there for!
While I follow this advice for both professional and personal tasks, I apply it differently for each.
For work, my team uses Asana. While I was not an initial fan of Asana, the more I use it, the more I find it helpful for organizing and tracking work projects and tasks I need to accomplish. (Vardy also uses Asana for work tasks.) There are plenty of other tools, however, that can work for this, such as Trello, Basecamp, Jira, Evernote or Dropbox. Even Google docs can be helpful if set up thoughtfully.
For personal tasks and lists I use an app on my phone. Colornote is the one I have been using regularly, but there’re plenty of others. My new Android phone, for example, came with Google Keep which could be used in a similar way. Vardy uses Todoist for personal tasks and “Evernote for story ideas and other bits of non-task oriented information.” As an IOS user he says he also uses “drafts” to capture thoughts on the fly.
Other popular note-taking apps include Dropbox Paper, OneNote, Simple Note, Zoho’s Notebook, Apple’s Notes, Notability, Quip, Squid and Bear.
Paper works too. Vardy uses it as a “gateway to digital task managers” and he’s built a system around it. I like writing lists on paper, but then I have to remember to transfer the information so it will be available to me wherever I go. Sometimes that means taking a picture of my list to make sure it’s with me. (I’ve been eyeing the Rocket notebook as an alternative that would allow me to send my notes to the cloud.)
Regardless of the method you use, consider taking the time to create a system where you write down what you need to remember rather than trying to rely on memory. Then you can save your brainpower for more work like coming up with the new ideas to get customers and grow your business. Time is money, and any measures to save time are worth taking. On average, business owners spend 33 hours applying for credit. Using Nav‘s eligibility tool can help you save time and find the best financing options for you company.
“You don’t need to have any of these fancy tools as long as you have a reliable and trustworthy way of capturing in place,” Vardy advises. “I’m a big believer in getting your approach in place first before you start looking at what applications you can use to facilitate your approach.”
This article was originally written on May 23, 2018 and updated on October 3, 2023.