2008: Empty your mind and stop multitasking







May 1, 2022

This is the second article in a series about Saent cofounder Tim's personal productivity journey and the history of Saent. The previous article was the introduction.

I had just started a video production company. With it came people to manage, business partners, and clients. My email inbox and head were exploding, and I forgot things—ideas, tasks, promises.

I felt overwhelmed, but I remember thinking that other folks deal with much larger responsibilities and workloads. There must be a better way to handle this.

Getting Things Done book cover

Around this time, I stumbled upon Getting Things Done (GTD) in a bookshop in Krakow in Poland, where I was visiting a friend. The title appealed to me. The corporate guy on the cover didn't. I picked up the book nevertheless, and the first chapter described my predicament:

  • My inbox served as my de facto todo list, which didn't work anymore. I went over the same emails repeatedly, skipped more complex threads, and only closed out the easier ones.
  • My head was pinging me at the strangest moments—and always the wrong ones—about stuff I might be forgetting. A constant sense of unease that things were slipping through the cracks hung around my mind. Yet somehow, I had settled into that feeling.

GTD offered a solution to what ailed me. David Allen, the book’s author and now one of the world’s most popular productivity experts, proposes you get everything—ideas, tasks, promises—out of your head and into an "external system" you regularly review. With the burden of remembering now on your phone, computer, or notebook, your brain stops worrying about everything it might be forgetting. You are then free to use your full mental capacity for whatever you turn your attention to.

Another crucial takeaway from Allen's book was that you can only do one thing at a time. Until then, I had considered myself a good multitasker, switching between activities frequently and efficiently. Allen brought home the point that you can only give your attention to one complex activity at a time. Full awareness is the key to getting things done.

I tried out what he suggested. Far from turning me into a productivity robot, my mind gained clarity and, to my great surprise, creativity. I was no longer worried about forgetting to call back people or losing ideas I had come up with in the gym or during a meeting. As a result, my work reached new levels of quality. I got more done while being calmer in both work and life.

That unexpected impact on my creativity got me hooked on thinking about productivity and set me off on a journey that would ultimately lead to my own productivity-related ideas, products, and company.

Read next 👉️ 2011-2012: The crazy idea of intentional disconnecting