Zia Hassan

Having Or Holding Ideas

David Allen, productivity writer and author of one of my favorite books, Getting Things Done, has famously said that the mind is for having ideas, not holding ideas.

That is to say, we are at our best when are being creative, thinking up new solutions to old problems, and generating ideas. What we’re not good at is remembering all of our appointments in our head, which is why we need a calendar. Or that we have a number of items due by the end of the month, which is why we need a task list. Using those kind of systems religiously can yield amazing results for our creative brain, which is now free to have ideas instead of hold them.

But the idea of sustaining this kind of habit for years or even a lifetime is daunting for many people.

For me, it was simple: once I experienced a taste of what it was like to free up my brain to have ideas instead of hold them, almost everything in my life changed. I became more productive, but not just in the sense of being busy… I was actually creating and producing important work that helped or transformed the people I served.

I even got into the habit of writing down any idea I had, either in a paper notebook or in an app. This has also made my life better: when I sit down to work, I now can pull from a list rather than scratch my head and procrastinate for a while.

Once I got a taste of that, I was hooked. My most creative ideas happen now when I’m doing something other than work – when I’m bored, or on the train, or driving. In other words, my brain is doing what it naturally wants to do, which is to have ideas. The system in charge of holding those ideas does the rest of the work, and everyone wins.

Procrastination doesn’t really exist for me anymore unless I’m faced with a challenge I’ve never thought about and need to solve quickly.