Processing Points - Why We Need Them

Isn’t it amazing how the mind works? I mean, just sit back and look at it for a second. Look at the size of your brain. How on earth can it retain the amount of information that it does?! We can remember so much, from much-loved days in our youth, playing games, running around without a care, to the stressful conversations and situations we find ourselves in at the workplace or at home. We can recollect moments that are dear to us just from listening to a song or seeing a familiar object. Yes, our brain is a truly remarkable thing indeed. 

Yet we take it for granted. Each and every day. We seem to have developed an expectation that our brain can work over and above its own limitations. We think that it can remember…

…everything. 

This is far from the truth and certainly something that I’ve learned myself over the years. 

Our brain only has a finite amount of space for retaining information and this is why we forget things, even things that we feel we should remember. 

Our brains need our help - and this is why processing points should be a cornerstone of our lives.

Processing Points

One of my favourite David Allen quotes is:

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them

I find this to be so true. How many times do you find yourself inspired, your mind coming up with some truly great ideas, only for you to forget them when you are actually in a position to deal with them?!. This is where the external brain comes in. You need to get those ideas out of your head and into a trusted system, or a processing point

A processing point is a location, either physical or digital, where you park ‘stuff’ to be dealt with later and ensure you don’t forget about it. 

What is stuff I hear you shout? 

As David Allen explains in his Getting Things Done methodology, Stuff can simply be described as anything that isn’t where it should be or is in an unfinished state. This could be a thought, an idea, a situation, a physical object, a concern - anything that needs to be processed. 

Is that brain-wave you had for increasing gross turnover in your company by 4% classed as stuff? Yes, it is. What about the plant that needs water in the corner of the office? Indeed. The conversation you are dreading having with a co-worker about the progress on their project? That’s definitely stuff right there. 

If you need to take an action on something, it needs collecting and processing. 

So what are the processing points I use currently?

I have a total of 5 Processing points, both digital and physical. 

Physical Inbox.

I have a physical inbox which I keep in my wardrobe. It’s a good size, around 16 inches square and in here I keep anything I find around the house that isn’t where it should be. Examples include:

  • correspondence for scanning into DEVONthink Pro Office
  • papers to shred
  • children's toys that need batteries
  • gifts for wrapping
  • paper notes to myself
  • physical items for storing in loft/garage

As I walk around the house, if something isn’t where it should be, or I need to take the next action on something that is currently undefined, it goes into my Physical Inbox. I aim to process this at least twice a week, with recurring appointments setup on my Calendar. 

Drafts

Drafts is an application on iOS that allows you to quickly capture information and then process it with the click of a button. Drafts is my go-to application for text entry and idea capture. From here, I have actions that will send information to OmniFocus, Apple Notes, Day One and others applications of note. It’s great because it has one real goal in mind - capture information. I have the badge notification setup so that I know at a glance how many unprocessed notes I have and I aim to clear this down twice a day. 

  • OmniFocus

As much as I would love to have only one software based processing point, OmniFocus 2 is the option of choice for Mac. This is because it is just so easy to get information in there and 95% of the ‘stuff’ I empty from my head ends up in OmniFocus 2 as a project. One simple shortcut opens up the Quick Entry window for OmniFocus, no matter which application I am currently in. From here, I can power through and empty my head quickly. (Yes, I know, it shouldn’t take long to empty mine - yada yada yada). It’s great and I empty this processing point twice daily. 

  • Email

Email is a processing point we can all empathise over. Stuff is always coming in here, mostly irrelevant but some of it not so. We need to process regularly in order to ensure we are on top of our world, yet not so often that people expect replies to correspondence straight away. I process my email inbox three times a day, no more, sometimes less - I just make sure I’m intentional about it and touch each email once. 

  • Voicemail

I love Voicemail as a processing point because it’s my favourite type of conversation. It’s one-way, meaning the caller has to get to the point quickly without taking up too much of my time! So often when I’m in the zone and flying through my work, I’ll let the phone ring to Voicemail and process the messages at some point within the hour. As I don’t check my email inbox hourly, I’d expect to be called if there is an emergency and my colleagues and friends respect this. If the same caller rings twice in quick succession, I know that I need to answer it pretty quickly because something is on fire. It’s a tough stance to take, but it saves a LOT more time than it wastes. 

I know a lot of you will read this and wonder where the physical notebook is? Is this an acceptable processing point? You bet it is, it just doesn’t fit with the way I work. I have a great deal of admiration for people that use physical notebooks for jotting down ideas and notes. It’s just not me

How many processing points do you have? Do you have information coming in from all over the place and find it difficult to keep up? See if you can limit it to a single figure amount and then commit time in your calendar to process them. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. 

We offer some great workshops at Think Productive covering this exact topic. Come check us out!