How Easy It Is to Capture, and How Difficult It Is to Do It RightAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” ~ David Allen.
Capturing is certainly the easiest productive habit to explain within the GTD methodology and also the easiest to understand:
Capturing is about collecting everything that has potential value for you and recording it in a reliable system, out of your head, that allows you to review it later.
This means writing it down on a piece of paper or notebook, recording it in a computer program, writing it down on your cell phone or recording a voice memo. No matter where you leave it, it must be a reliable place. This means that you will be able to retrieve it at any time to process it conveniently.
Everything you don’t capture out of your mind will remain in your mind, even if sometimes you are not aware of it. It will occupy a place in a space that is finite and, in addition, it will generate noise. In other words, part of your capacity and energy will be wasted on things that your brain cannot stop thinking about because you have not yet clarified what they really mean.
By collecting those things in a reliable place, you give your brain a break, since it no longer has to worry about them. According to the essay Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity, written by F. Heylighen and C. Vidal,
“Our memory, both short and long term, has great limitations, so it is not advisable to rely on it to retrieve important information when we need it. Using the brain to store information causes it to become saturated, as it needs a high level of neuronal activity to maintain this information without interference. By using an external memory, we ensure that we retrieve exactly what we put in there and get rid of the stress associated with the need to continually remember everything.”
Why is it so complicated to do such a simple thing? The problem is that, even knowing the benefits of capturing the things that come into our minds, we resist capturing everything. Sometimes, because we think it’s not important or not part of our job. Other times, we simply trust that we will remember it later.
For this to really work, you need to collect everything, 100% of things. Because if there are things — even if they are few and “unimportant” — that constantly require your brain’s attention, you will have a level of stress that won’t allow you to concentrate properly on what you’re doing, with the consequent decrease in productivity and creativity.
Moreover, if you don’t capture all possible actions, your inventory of actions won’t be complete, and how are you going to be able to choose the best possible action to perform from a set of incomplete actions?
The bottom line is that if you don’t capture everything or you don’t capture it well, you won’t be able to exercise complete smooth productivity and you won’t be fully effective.
My advice is to always carry a notebook and a pen with you. There will be times when you are more comfortable using your computer, tablet or smartphone, but the notebook never fails. If you have the notebook always at hand, it will be easier to break the resistance to write down certain things or to postpone the capture. Write down everything that comes to mind at the moment it occurs to you, without waiting a minute. Whatever you’re doing, if an idea comes to you or you remember something, the interruption is already there. Open the notebook, write it down, and continue with what you were doing. Make this a habit and you’ve taken a big step toward stress-free productivity.
For times when you can’t write, a mobile app to capture voice memos is often a great solution.