The importance of writing things down

My co-worker Vikas (or VK as we like to call him) said something quite funny today that struck a chord with me.  As we were walking out I jokingly chided him for not responding to an e-mail from our development group regarding an upcoming release.  His response: “Of course I didn’t remember.  My brain has a session cache expiration of 20 minutes!”

*Note: for those of you on the less geeky end of the spectrum, a “session cache” is essentially a stored picture of various things you’ve entered into a particular web site.  It’s how GMail knows you’re already logged in, for instance.  The “expiration time” sets how long this information is kept in memory on the web server before being purged.

His remark, though meant in jest, actually made quite a good point.  Human memory is nothing if not volatile and unreliable.  All you need do is browse the pages of Wikipedia or Blogger to find some good references.  In fact, I would say that this is one of, if not the, fundamental principle behind GTD: don’t trust your brain, it will inevitably let you down.

I always make it a point to get everything out of my brain and into my lists as quickly as possible.  If I don’t have access to my tool of choice (Remember The Milk), I’ll usually write myself an e-mail via the Crackberry.  Once I process through all the items in my inbox, the task will get added to the relevant list in RTM.  I do also use my trusty notebook when in meetings, using a variant of John Kendrick’s excellent system to record all the action items or questions that come out of my sessions.  I’m not perfect, and I do slip up from time to time.  But it’s still a far better alternative than trusting the vast amount of information coming in to that pile of gray matter between my ears.


  1. Great stuff here Josh! I too have a tendancy to clear my session cache on a regular basis (<= 10 minutes in my case) so if I don’t write someing down, I will surly forget it.


  2. @John: Not a problem on the mention, you have a great site! Seeing another IT pro talking about GTD was one of my inspirations for starting this blog. I’ll be sure to check out your presentation.

    @Tony: Yeah, cache times may vary. Mine goes between 30 seconds and 30 minutes, but usually tends to be on the low side. There’s certainly always plenty for us to remember, yeah?


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