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Capture Everything: A Productivity Strategy

One of the great innovations of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system is the idea and value of ‘capture’.

He argues that trying to keep ideas in our mind rather than writing them down is one of the main sources of everyday stress. By trying to remember, say, a task we need to complete or an idea that we’ve had we create what Allen calls ‘open loops’. These open loops continue to reverberate in our mind, causing a general sense of being unsettled.

As such, we should aim to close these open loops by recording whatever task or idea in a system we trust and know to be reliable. Recording should be effortless and quick and we should have some kind of system to then empty these quick capture notes into a more long term storage system.

There are many, many ways to achieve this, but I wanted to share the one I have opted for.

Everywhere I go I carry around a pocket Moleskin Cahier notebook.

This is my quick capture notebook. Everything goes in here. It might be an idea, something I want to try with a class, a task I need to complete, something to buy from the shop, an initiative to try at work. The benefit to this, which Allen identifies, is that you don’t need to think where to jot down the idea when you have it, often a cause of friction, but rather you can simply and instantaneously get the idea out of your head and onto paper. You can close the loop.

However, this notebook isn’t where I want this information to stay. Having everything in one place but become chaotic and it would quickly lose its reliability, which defeats the whole point of the system. So, I regularly check this notebook and transfer whatever I have written to the relevant location. This might be, for example:

1. A notebook I have just for work related stuff
2. A notebook I have for writing
3. My task manager (I use Tick Tick)
4. A shopping list app on my phone
5. An index card, which I use as part of a system for storing research and book notes

This might seem like a duplication of effort, but the value of having a place to write down anything and everything without thinking where to put this information is invaluable. I can have an idea, quickly capture it, and know it will be sorted and addressed and placed in its proper place later. Any open loops are closed pretty much immediately.

There are many other ways to achieve the same thing, for instance you could just use the same notebook for everything and divide it by relevant sections. One section could be for quick capture. Or, if you use a bullet journal, you could achieve the same thing through the in-built routine of getting things down and processing later. A digital equivalent of this system for those who prefer not to use pen and paper would be the app Drafts.

Whatever the system the benefit of having a way to quickly get things down and then to assess and sort later is immense.


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