Last week we discussed David Allen’s GTD™ system. In this episode, we’re going to respond to a listener request by taking a deeper look at the first component of a functional productivity system.
Capturing your thoughts in the moment while living a busy lifestyle can be difficult, but it’s possible
Last week talked about the GTD system developed by David Allen. Listener Joan left a comment saying, “I would like to have an episode on the GTD capture. I travel for extended times so capturing is difficult.”
The “capture everything” principle is a fundamental aspect of the GTD method. It emphasizes the importance of recording all tasks, ideas, and commitments as they arise, which helps ensure nothing is overlooked and frees up mental space. As one post on the Calm Achiever blog reminds us:
“The best practice of Capture is putting things down in a reliable external system.
Reliable – So you can rest assured that your important thoughts and to-dos are not ‘lost’ in the shuffle of life and you regularly review them to stay on track with their execution.
External – To save your own brain from the burden of preserving the little things so that it can focus on the big picture and – fine tune and plan.”
Why it matters:
Externalizing thoughts: The most important principle is to create a reliable system for managing tasks and ideas. Externalizing your thoughts reduces the cognitive load, allowing you to focus on the task at hand without worrying about forgetting important details.
“Capturing does not mean interrupting what you are doing to do something else. It just means reacting to something that comes to your mind and writing it down, without spending more time on it at that moment, so that you can continue with what you’re currently focusing on without being distracted by anything else.” [from The Capture Stage of GTD, Explained]
Reducing stress: The act of capturing everything helps decrease stress by decluttering your mind. When your brain is not preoccupied with trying to remember every task or idea, you can concentrate better and experience less mental fatigue.
Key elements of capture
Capture tools: Selecting the right tools for capturing information is crucial. Some individuals prefer a traditional pen and paper approach, using a notebook, paper planner (dozens to choose from), or notepad to jot down tasks and ideas. Others may opt for digital tools, such as note-taking apps (Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes), task management apps (Todoist, Trello, Apple Reminders, Asana), or even voice recording apps for hands-free capturing. Use a tool you enjoy.
Ubiquitous capture: Make sure your chosen capture tool is easily accessible, whether you’re at home, at work, or on the go. This ensures you can quickly record tasks and ideas as they come to mind, reducing the likelihood of forgetting important information.
Capture in the moment: Don’t rely on your memory to retain tasks and ideas until a more convenient time. Capture them immediately to reduce the risk of forgetting or overlooking essential details. (This is why ubiquity is essential.)
“Capturing (or quick capture) allows you to quickly record your ideas and move freely to next one without having anything “fall through the cracks”. Quick capture is a foundational principle of any productivity system. It’s just as important for the small tasks (like remembering the milk) as it is for the “bigger” tasks (like a home remodeling project or product launch).” [from A Primer to Quick Capturing for GTD – Part 1 of 4]
Capture triggers: Develop a habit of capturing tasks and ideas as they arise. You can also set up triggers or reminders, such as a daily prompt to review your notes or emails, to ensure you consistently capture everything that requires your attention.
No task is too small: When capturing tasks and ideas, don’t dismiss seemingly minor items. It’s essential to capture everything, regardless of its perceived importance at the time. Sometimes, even small tasks can contribute to significant outcomes or provide the foundation for larger projects.
“A good practice is to capture 100% of your incomplete inputs, even those that seem unimportant, so that your organizational system represents an accurate picture of your real commitments and interests. If your system does not match your reality, your motivation will soon wane.” [from The Capture Stage of GTD, Explained]
Avoid self-editing: During the capture phase, focus solely on recording your thoughts without evaluating or organizing them. The GTD method includes separate steps for processing and organizing tasks, which you’ll tackle after capturing everything.
Some final thoughts
By consistently capturing everything that requires your attention, you create a reliable external system to manage your tasks, ideas, and commitments. This practice not only helps prevent forgetting crucial tasks but also reduces stress by decluttering your mind, ultimately enhancing focus and productivity.
As Leo Babauta says in a post on his Zen Habits blog,
“If you slip up, just start again. Sometimes we forget about our capture system, or get too busy. It happens to all of us. Don’t beat yourself up, or just abandon the system. It works. You just need to get started again. Perhaps try a new system, but just start.”
What do you think?
Do you have a system in place for capturing your ideas, information, and commitments? What tools or habits help you? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Links
- The Capture Stage of GTD, Explained
- Step 1: Capture – Getting Things Done®
- A Primer to Quick Capturing for GTD
- Tips for GTD’s Ubiquitous Capture – zen habits zen habits
- Step 1: Capture – Calm Achiever
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Reshma Kukadia says
I am an apple fan. One my Apple Watch if have set it up so that the top right hand corner of my Apple Watch screen, when pressed, takes me directly to the apple voice memos app. Throughout the day, as things occur to me, I make voice memos which means I don’t have to carry anything with me, not even my phone. At the end of each day a listen to them all either on my phone, watch or ipad, either dealing with them immediately, or adding to my weekly review. It’s been a game changer for me.