Monday, April 21, 2008

How To Capture Your Life

By Matt:

Let's break down the idea of GTD capture. In the 'Getting Things Done' philosophy of productivity, Capture is the term applied to the gathering and recording of action items. If you want to become more efficient, not only at work but at life as well, you need to define and perfect a method of capture. This post will help you do just that:

GTD helps you get things out of mind and on a physical to-do list so that you don't have to remember every single thing that needs to get done by the end of the week. Specific methods of doing this are going to vary from person to person, so before defining your plan, consider how you live your life. Check out these questions...
  • Do you spend a significant amount of your day in front of a computer?
  • Are you mobile with a laptop or blackberry?
  • Do you spend all day in meetings?
  • Are you a road warrior, spending a large amount of your time in the car?
  • Are you attached at the hip to your cell phone?
Continue to consider these questions as you review the methods of capture outlined below, evaluating how each might practically fit into your daily lifestyle.

  • GTD / To-Do List Application: Web and desktop based applications abound for GTDers looking to organize their productive lifestyles in a digital world. Popular programs include Remember The Milk, Thinking Rock, and our personal favorite, Todoist.
  • Text Document: The best GTD methods are generally surprising simple, such as using a basic text editor like Notepad to list to-do items. Check out our post on TXT docs to get started.
  • Google Notebook: Similar to the simple Text Document concept, catalog your lists online with Google's Notebook app. Lifehacker offers an overview of using gNotebook for capture purposes.
  • Email: For most office workers email is the most common arrival point for action items, and they are generally sent to you by other people, but don't overlook the capability to send yourself an email if that's an easy way to notify yourself of a to-do item. Email should only be an entry point... DO NOT use it as your master to-do list
  • Text Message: If you're quick with a cell phone, hammering out a quick text message is a great way to send yourself to-do items on the go. Did you know you can text message directly to email? I send my to-do item text messages directly to my personal Gmail address.
  • PDA / Blackberry: Both tools great for when you're on the go, and again you might opt to send items as an email to yourself.
  • Jott: This fantastic online application enables you to record a message for yourself which is automatically transcribed to text and then sent to your personal email. I prefer this method of capture when I'm driving in the car and shouldn't be using my hands to write text messages.
  • Moleskine Journal: There is something simple, elegant, classy and entirely functional about a Moleskine journal. I use mine for handwritten meeting notes and also tab off a section to capture to-do items. Personally, I prefer Moleskine's Large Squared Notebook - the grid lines are great for keeping straight columns and sketching quick charts. In reality, any simple bound, ruled notebook will suffice in lieu of a Moleskine.
  • Hipster PDA: The Hipster PDA was introduced by Merlin Mann a few years ago and quickly spread like wildfire through GTD culture. It's basically a bunch of 3"x5" notecards binder clipped together with notes written on them - that's it - check out the original article on 43 Folders.
You need to develop an arsenal of capture methods that will work for you and your daily lifestyle. If you're a mobile person, always on the go, you'll probably opt for some of the more mobile devices. If you're constantly in front of a computer the digital methods are likely most efficient for you. If your company has rules against electronic devices in meetings, you're going to need an analog method of capture. Personally, I utilize a hybrid of email, text messaging and Jott's transcription service, as well as a Moleskine journal, and all action items from these methods ultimately end up in my master to-do list on Todoist.

Two simple rules when it comes to application:
  1. Keep It Simple - Capture needs to be ubiquitous, meaning it happens continuously regardless of where you are. You will be best equipped to do that by keeping your arsenal small and uncomplicated, utilizing only a few simple methods.
  2. Focus On Capture, Not Organization - Methods of capture are only for gathering action items, not for organizing and refining them. Organization happens on your master to-do list which needs to be kept separate from your methods of capture.
The beautiful thing about GTD is that it is completely customizable for your situation, lifestyle, and needs. Experiment with different capture methods and determine what works best for you. Don't ever let your methods become a point of distraction - they should focus on streamlined efficiency allowing you to quickly and consistently gather action items while allowing your brain to focus on the knowledge demanding situations that your job undoubtedly requires.

Do you use other methods of capture that weren't listed here? Let us know about them in the comments below!

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