Capture, the first stage in workflow is very simple but incredibly effective.  Trying to hold all our ‘stuff’ in our head creates much more stress than we need.  And the busier we get, the more important good capturing becomes.

I should emphasize that ‘Capturing’ is not the same as writing a to do list, (this comes at stage 3 of workflow).  Capturing is merely collecting or catching these things the first time they come to us into tools we trust, rather than holding them in our head.  If we do the best practices of capturing we should have less situations where we forget important commitments and less occasions when we lie in bed with “stuff” rattling around, affecting our sleep.  In a recent national survey, 82%  said the thing affecting their sleep was “what went on in my life yesterday and what have I got tomorrow?”

Capturing allows us to use our mind for creative thinking rather than as a storage device or database.    The science to this is the Zeigarnik effect – the brain holding onto open loops.  Research shows that after approximately 7 things, the brain drops the ball or nags you about them until it trusts that you have parked it appropriately.

There are many tools that we can use for capturing and the key is trusting the tools.  So you might find it useful to download the accompanying exercise to this section.

Complete the exercise by reviewing the questions at the bottom of the sheet and putting the answers in the boxes at the top of the page………

What has the exercise shown.  Probably that you’re using a lot more capture tools than you might have initially imagined.  Also your head is the answer to many of these questions.  Even if you have a good memory, the habit of keeping it all in our head just adds a layer of stress none of us need.

If you still doubt that this is the best practice, just think back to the last time you felt overwhelmed and stressed.  What did you do?  Possibly grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a quick list.  Just seeing it all out on paper was a help in itself.  Nothing had changed; you hadn’t done anything other than write an inventory.

Interestingly, even those who use high tech systems will often grab a piece of paper when they’re stressed.  Just this simple act of writing a list was a help in itself.  This is known as “Distributed Cognition”.  You saw a clearer inventory of what initially felt so overwhelming.

On its own however, this isn’t enough.  (cue stages 2 and 3 of workflow).  However, even just this first stage of writing it down gave you a liberating feeling.

Key’s to capturing:

  • Capture, capture, capture – much more stuff.  During the day, the first time this thing comes to you.
  • Into tools that you trust
  • Use as many capture tools as you need
  • But as few as possible (everything you use to capture is something else to process)
  • Get them back to empty regularly
  • And know when not to capture (“send me an email on that!”)

Digging deeper with capture tools

We often have multiples of many of these tools.  For example, we will possibly have an e-mail inbox for our work account and another for our personal e-mail.  These are the busiest capture tools for most but two inboxes are two capture tools not just one.  Many send e-mails between accounts to act as reminders and this can work well. txt_notebooks

However, these “multiples” can create problems.  For example, multiple notepads.  That’s more places to check.  And when you’re in a hurry – you grab the nearest notebook, even though it was originally for another purpose.

It’s not wrong to have more than one notebook, but they should have clean edges; in other words you should know what is in each one.  And only use if for that thing.  Once these tools lose their clarity, they add stress, not reduce it.  To get them back to empty, either tear pages out (a mini note-taking wallet with loose pages can be a great solution), or if you need to keep your notebooks intact perhaps as audit trails, at least liberate the actions from your notebooks, elsewhere into the system, which we will come to later.

Mobile phones are a key capture tool.  However, it’s important is to remember that they tend to be multiple capture tools all in one.  This can be good and bad.  For example …

  1. Notes app
  2. Shopping list app
  3. Calendar
  4. Email (multiple accounts)
  5. Voicemail
  6. Texting (yourself)
  7. Camera

So even on the phone, if you can get the tools filtering in the right locations that would be helpful.

Apps to try

Office Lens – capturing by photo into OneNote (converting Business Cards into contacts).  Available for most mobile devices.

Evernote – speech to text or photo into Evernote

Braintoss – easy to set up; convert simple speech to text or take a photo and send straight into email (watch the demo).

IFTTT (If this then that) – look for conditions and create actions automatically in other web-based services

Zapier – similar to IFTTT but more powerful (paid service)

The tools you use should be quick and easy, and not require you to be in peak performance to use them.

As a final comment on capture, I would recommend not capturing when you don’t have anything to hand.  If you are in the hallway, you might want to ask the person to drop you an email or speak later.  This allows you to capture more effectively when you’re in the right place.

Above are just a few examples of capture tools, and these are mentioned, just to get you thinking.  It doesn’t matter what you use, just as long as they work for you.

This is where we can help even the most organised people look for improvement opportunities.  Analyse your life and working patterns and ask two simple questions:

  1. Is there anywhere I regularly need to capture something without having anything at hand?
    If so, you possibly need to add a capture tool or device to your armoury.
  2. Looking at my list of capture tools, are there any that aren’t working for me?  Why?
    Perhaps you need to get rid of them, change them or adapt them so they do work.

So stage one is simple and should require only a small amount of investment of your time to implement.  It is a quick win, and should be reviewed and implemented as soon as possible.

Stage two, Clarify … isn’t any more complex, but hopefully will also add real value.

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