Getting Things Done - GTD

Gaining Control Through Capture (Part I)

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Stress-Free Habits Work & Life Capture
"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in." — Robert Louis Stevenson

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Gaining Control Through Capture (Part I)

Gaining Control Through Capture:
1. Gaining Control Through Capture – Part I
2. Journaling, Another Way of Capturing
3. Gaining Control Through Capture – Part II
4. The Capture Habit
5. Capture Tools and Best Practices

Capturing is the first phase for gaining control of your life and building a positive relationship with your environment and the commitments you make.

The goal of capturing is to identify what is relevant to you at any given moment. It’s about being aware of what things are catching your attention and, therefore, it’s an exercise that can have very important benefits on a personal level.

Things that are running smoothly at the moment, or running “as they should,” are not going to get your attention at all. If your car is running properly and doing its job, you probably won’t think about it. If your children are growing, learning and being happy, you won’t feel you need to do anything about it.

It’s the things that aren’t quite the way you’d like them to be that will click in your head. These dissonances occur constantly, as interruptions in your train of thought. When you feel hungry, when someone mentions something that interests you, when your car starts making funny noises.

Getting into the habit of noticing these dissonances and writing them down to potentially do something about them is the first step to living a productive, meaningful and relatively calm life. Simply writing them down or recording them somewhere to do something about later causes your brain to consider them somehow “dealt with” and rid itself of them.

On the contrary, ignoring these things will only be a way to generate stress in your life, because they are not going to disappear from your head just like that.

The Mind Sweep

The easiest way to start gaining control through capture is through a process that GTD calls mental sweep.

This is an exercise that forces you to think about each of the supposedly important aspects of your life, both personal and professional, so that you identify and write down the dissonances that you find in each of them. That is, to capture the things that at this moment are not as they should be.

Mind sweeping is something you should force yourself to do every so often, as it is very difficult to naturally navigate through all levels of your mind’s consciousness to find everything that requires your attention.

In this article I explain in detail what it is and how to do a mind sweep every time you need to regain control of your life, and in this tutorial you can see how to perform a mind sweep in a guided way using the FacileThings application.

The horizons of focus

When you do a mind sweep you visit one by one the different aspects that make up your personal and professional life to identify what things are incomplete today, things that need to be translated into actions to be taken to gain control and balance.

But there are still other, more subtle issues that deserve to be visited regularly as part of a higher process of capture. These are the so-called levels of perspective.


Most of the pending projects become evident when going through the mind sweep process. Buy a new car, do a marketing campaign, fix the water heater, etc.

However, there are other projects that are more difficult to identify and capture, because we don’t consider them real problems right now. These are situations that are probably on your radar but at a more subconscious level. Your parents are getting older and can no longer do some of the things they used to do well, your relationship with a colleague at work is becoming awkward, you haven’t thought about your next vacation, etc. It is difficult to recognize these kinds of mental distractions as something that needs to be resolved.

Areas of focus

Areas of focus are the relevant aspects of your life that you need to pay attention to. Sometimes it turns out that we have more areas of focus than we think we do.

For example, it’s increasingly common for a simple job description to imply a broader development of your skills. Your job as a “programmer” may involve other hidden tasks, such as managing projects, being responsible for teaching a new employee, troubleshooting customer problems, writing documentation, or even doing some marketing.

In your personal life, nothing gets your attention when everything is in balance. But things change and your attention must move from one responsibility to another. Your daughter gets older and becomes independent, requiring less attention from you; however, your parents get older and need help that wasn’t necessary before. You finish paying off the mortgage on your house, and your finances stop worrying you; but then your car suddenly dies, and you have to take out a new loan. You have more free time, but at the same time, there are more things you are interested in and want to do. A recent back injury makes it advisable to take care of yourself and exercise.

Capturing all these things out of your head can bring a lot of clarity to your life.


What about the future? Defining goals helps you be aware right now of things that will be needed in the future.

If you’ve already defined a strategic plan for the next few years, you’re covered, nothing to capture here. But if you don’t have one, or have only partially thought of a few things, this is an important capture area. You may well have to do things now so that in the future you can achieve the goals you set for yourself. For example, saving now so that your daughter can study what she wants in a few years, at a university far away.

These types of commitments are often out of sight in a world full of distractions, and it’s necessary to think about them in advance so that it’s not too late when they take on a more real form.

You may also want to define new goals in some areas of your life, such as getting in shape, losing a few pounds, traveling and getting to know other cultures, etc.


One step higher is the vision of what you would like your life to look like in the future. Thinking about it, visualizing images of both your personal life and your professional career, is an interesting exercise to capture things that should help you turn that vision into reality.

Live in New York? Have a large family? Start your own business? Retire to a place with sun and beach? Visualizing your future success should motivate you to start capturing the small jobs that will get you there.

Purpose and principles

As in the previous sections, if you have a sense that the things you do fulfill your life purpose and values, there is nothing to capture here.

But if your actions and projects are not aligned with your purpose, you will never have a real sense of fulfillment and peace of mind. Maybe you’re not doing work that fulfills you, or you’re doing it with people who don’t behave according to your principles.

At this level, dissonance requires major decisions, but few people stop to reflect on it as they should. It’s hard to acknowledge that your life is not conforming to your expectations, but it’s foolish not to do anything about it.

You may also have a purpose that is not too clear at the moment, or it may change slightly over the years, or even drastically if some momentous event occurs. But it’s good to reflect on this from time to time to make sure you’re doing the right thing, or to correct your course if not.

In any case, when something is on your mind, big or small, at whatever level, write it down; capture it. Put it in your system. There will be time to delete it if it’s no longer relevant.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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