The hallmark productivity book of the last 20 years is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It hit the shelves in 2001. But in this post, we look at a book called The Technique of Getting Things Done by Donald and Eleanor Land. That one appeared 1947. I ran across it in the university library during my college days.

One particular essay from the book made an impact. It was called “The 2-Cent Notepad.”

The following passage stood out for me as a college student, because it paralleled exactly what I did then and had been doing since my senior year in high school:

You taught me one of the most useful things I ever learned,” a former student, now vice-president of a nationwide corporation, told me.

I preened as I waited for him to return some of my own pearls of wisdom.

“I learned it by watching you,” he continued, pulling a 2-cent pad from his vest pocket. “We noticed that you often wrote something on one of these pads, then tore off the little sheet and filed it in a stack clipped to the back of the pad. Occasionally you would remove the top sheet, crumple it, and toss it into the wastebasket.

The class was making bets about that pad. Someone even suggested you were writing poetry on it. I snooped in the wastebasket and found that the slips contained businesslike orders to yourself about things you had to do.

I had forgotten about your pad until a few years ago. I was behind in my work and forgetting a lot of small but important things. So I bought a 2-cent pad and tried your scheme. I made notes the instant I found something needed to be done.  I used a separate sheet for each thing and arranged them in the order in which they could be done quickest.

“Then I started getting things done.”

Devotees of the Pad

The essay goes on to talk about other “devotees of the pad.” They included Harry Heinz, who went from peddling homemade horseradish to building his “57 Varieties” empire. John Patterson went from being a canal-toll collector to the founder of the National Cash Register Company due to his notepad. Leonardo daVinci carried a notepad in his belt. Beethoven always had his notepad handy.

The essay goes on to list other people. They all had in common one thing: the practice of always having a notepad and using it to trap ideas as soon as they occurred.

The right to forget about it

When good ideas occur, how do you trap them so they’re not forgotten? Tools change over time, but sound principles are eternal. In this case, the eternal principles are having a tool and using it consistently. When you have a thought and immediately put it in that tool, you earn the right to forget about it.

The tool may be a 2-cent notepad or a thousand-dollar phone. The important elements are that you have a tool and you have a solid strategy for using it.

Whether it’s a thank-you note you need to write, a recipe you want to try, an idea for a slogan, or the spark for the next great novel, let your version of the “2-cent notepad” trap it. Move on with your day with the knowledge your tool is preserving that to-do, brilliant idea, or any other obligation until the right time.

By the way, if you would like to read The Technique of Getting Things Done in its entirety, that work is available online at this link.

What’s your tool for trapping the to-dos, the good ideas, and all the information you don’t want to forget?

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