Simple Advice from David Allen: Get Rid of Brain Clutter

david allen simple advice

Chase Jarvis is no stranger to productivity hacks. He’s interviewed dozens of experts in an attempt to unveil as many tips and tricks as possible. So when his jaw literally dropped during his UberLIVE conversation with David Allen during SXSW, we knew it was time to pay attention. What was the advice that was so simple it shocked even Chase?

“Your head is for having ideas, not holding them.”

Chase sat there for a moment in stunned silence. “My mouth is open because I just got it. In that one sentence, how profound that is.”

Those “I should,” “I’m supposed to,” and “I need to” thoughts can take up a lot of space in your mind, constant reminders of the tasks that you should be working on or the things you’ve never gotten around to. David illustrates his advice with an example: the idea of “I need cat food” should only pop into your head once if you’re operating at a productive level. I like to imagine that this cognitive clutter is similar to hitting the snooze button over and over in the morning – it’s a nagging reminder of “I should wake up,” that keeps being delayed. Not only are you putting off an important task of the day, you’re also getting a very low and interrupted quality of rest.

This isn’t the first time that David has stunned us by simplifying obstacles that seem insurmountable. The founder of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, which has enjoyed viral acclaim in tech and business circles worldwide, David somehow always manages to make it all clear. Even though his GTD guide was published in 2002, websites like Lifehacker continue to revel in how David’s systems can be applied to today’s workflows. He seems to have a knack for restructuring the way our minds operate.

The beauty of David’s advice is that it is broad enough to be applied to any industry or creative endeavor. David Allen was an ideal guest for the #uberLIVE series, tying together task management, business strategy, and creativity in a way that succinctly speaks to everyone. The full conversation is full of productivity gems, as David and Chase dish on idea management apps (like Evernote), intuition, and even meditation.

“You’re blowing my mind…it’s so simple!” remarked Chase. We know the feeling.

Watch the whole interaction:

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Loraine Kanervisto has been writing business, technology, and lifestyle features since 2008. She loves exploring how diverse communities interact with technology. Loraine spends her time tinkering with gadgets, exploring Seattle's lit scene, and hanging out with her two black cats.