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The Advantage of Writing Stuff Down

Years ago I read a helpful productivity book called Getting Things Done, in which the author, David Allen, argues that writing things down in a trusted system is a critical component of efficiency. Allen reasons as follows: though I could try to retain various pieces of information in my brain, why should I try? When I entrust information to my brain, not only do I risk forgetting things, but I also end up using mental energy that could go somewhere else. Instead, if I write things down, I can “clear the mental decks” and be free to think and respond to what’s in front of me.

Though I doubt Allen has considered the applicability of his advice to Christian disciple-making practices, I’d like to suggest today that utilizing some sort of journal—preferably a paper one—is a big advantage for disciple-makers. At the outset, let me clarify that I am not speaking of a pseudo-diary in which I write all sorts of spiritual reflections and delve deep into my soul. Some might like this practice, but to me it is oppressively introspective and distracting from the mission to love God and others. What I’m talking about is basically a disciple-making notebook designed to make me as effective as possible in engaging Christ’s mission.

Consider a few benefits of writing things down in a journal. First, it enables us to record things that could be topics for prayer on behalf of those we are ministering to. Second, it is a place to record stories of God’s working so that we can come back to them later and, just as importantly, share them with others. Third, at least for me, the format of a physical notebook (I use a Moleskine) makes it more likely that I will follow up. The notebook is right in front of me and harder to ignore than something stored electronically. I carry it with me as my main place to take notes, and notes from weeks and weeks of interactions are bound together. Because I have a practice of taking it with me and reviewing new entries regularly, I can follow up on things that might otherwise get lost in the woodwork.

Just recently I saw first-hand the benefit of my notebook. As I reviewed my entries, I saw a topic worthy of simply checking up on. When I connected with the person on this situation that we’d discussed, he really appreciated it. The notebook fostered disciple-making impact.

OK, time to hear from you! Have you tried to record prayer requests or interactions in some format? What works best for you?

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For those interested in more on this topic, I believe Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next is an excellent companion to Getting Things Done. Perman approaches productivity from a biblical perspective and refers repeatedly to the Getting Things Done approach, offering helpful context and correctives.

2 Responses

  1. Janie Watanabe says:

    I keep a book with me all the time in which I enter my daily activities, to-do’s and important information about others. This keeps my mind clear and several times I have needed information about someone that, had I not written it down, I wouldn’t be able to go back to it. Maybe I have forgotten their first name or last name and so by searching back through the pages, I find the event or conversation we had with their full name written down or the prayer request they had that now I can refer to when I call them. I also keep a book of my prayers over the years, which is a huge blessing. I recently went through one where I specifically asked for some life-altering changes and was able to share that God said yes to each item on that list.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      Great comment, Janet, and it is good to see how God has used this book in your life. Your practice of writing things down – and then going back and looking at what you’ve written! – is a good example for us.

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