The importance of having a single Trusted System

184804867Recently I received a first hand reminder of the importance of having a single place that your brain trusts will have all your stuff. The reason why this is so important is your brain needs to trust all that stuff is somewhere you can access immediately when necessary or else it will not “let go” of that stuff.

I saw a demonstration of what some people thought was “GTD” and was shocked at how they rationalized their multiple “systems” as a trusted system. Anyone who thinks email is a good place for a trusted system just doesn’t get GTD. They might as well just keep everything in their heads because they didn’t get any of the benefits of a unified trusted system for their stuff.

Many people (either consciously or unconsciously) try to keep track of everything they need to do in their mind or across several different “systems”, which is a big mistake. Our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not storage.  Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot going on.  The best way to stop mentally thrashing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it.

We all use trusted systems today and probably don’t know it.  Your calendar is a trusted system.  Once you put a meeting or appointment into your calendar your brain “lets go of it” and no longer keeps it in your subconscious.  Why does your brain “forget” that meeting?  Because it “trusts” your “system” (calendar) to remember it for you.

Similarly, your Contacts or Rolodex is a trusted system too. Remember back when you used to remember people’s phone numbers?  Not long ago, some people prided themselves on their ability to remember tens or hundreds of phone numbers.  How silly does that seem today?  Why bother taking up long-term memory with that task when you can have a computer, smartphone or physical Rolodex do that job for you?  Your brain trusts your system to remember the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.

When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more. Don’t confuse context like @home where the next physical action can only be done at home with “personal” like separating work stuff with personal stuff. In GTD, there is no distinction between business and personal – it is all “stuff” you need to do and it needs to get into your trusted system.

About Michael Keithley

3 Responses to The importance of having a single Trusted System

  1. david_h says:

    Your email can be a trusted system if it is organized, actionable and trackable. For people that get most of their workload via email it might be easier to use an email centric system versus a separate process.

    A question if like to hear your thoughts on, do you think having a separate trusted system for work and a second process for everything else is a bad idea?

    • I guess email could be the basis for a trusted system if is is organized, actionable and trackable but in my experience that is a rare set of variables. I’m not sure how you would handle all the other incoming stuff that life brings. How do you handle that web page that you want to keep for future reference? That flower bed you need to weed in the yard? The tweet you want to follow up on? The bills you need to pay that came via snail mail? The invoices that need approving? Etc.

      For most of us, to much of life’s stuff comes at us that is not email to make an email system and effective trusted system. Obviously, your situation may be different and the vast majority of your stuff arrives via email. If that is the case and you can figure out how to get all the other stuff into email then it could work for you

      In my experience email is just one of many places people keep tasks that they need to address and then they constantly scan their inbox to see if they need to do something about one of the emails. This is just inefficient when you look at the same email over and over again deciding if it is actionable and if your going to do something about it now or just leave it in the inbox to deal with later.

      I recommend practicing Inbox Zero and only touch an email once.

    • I have done it both ways – having one trusted system for work and one for personal – and just one combined system for both. I recommend one system because more and more our lives are not cleanly separated like they have been in the past. Many times I can take care of a personal think while at work. this is especially true with @Errands where things need to be completed outside of the office or home. It also give me the ease of a single place I need to review when doing my weekly review.

      So, either way can work but I recommend a unified trusted system.

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