The 5 phases of GTD – Phase 1 “Capture”

ThinkstockPhotos-497130100The capture phase is fairly self explanatory. Whenever you have a thought or action comes to mind that you need or want to do something with (David Allen calls it “stuff) then you need to capture it in a place that your mind will trust that it won’t get lost. This place is called your “trusted system” and it is the key building block of the GTD system.

If your stuff is not being directly managed in an external trusted system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche (David calls these open loops) and that is a bad thing. The point is you need to make sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

If you are new to GTD or have lost steam in you GTD practice, you need to do what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.” The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather a complete inventory of everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life.

Capturing “stuff” with a Mind-Sweep

The mind-sweep is really simple. I break it down into two parts.

First, I take my phone and literally walk around my house and office and take pictures of things that I want/need/may want to do something about. It is important not to judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them captured. Many items will be in the someday/maybe category that I may not actually get to doing for a long time. That’s okay. The critical part is to capture everything.

Literally, start in your front yard and take pictures of everything that you might want to do something about. Maybe it’s trimming the trees or weeding the planter or painting the house. Just start capturing everything. Then go to the side of the house, the backyard, the garage, and every room in your house. Don’t skip closets or junk drawers as they can easily be a source of subconscious stress.

Once you have completed this physical inventory of all your stuff, move on the second phase of the mind-sweep. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 10 minutes, and just begin to inventory every conceivable “open loop” from the corners of your brain.

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you crazy right now, then proceed methodically through every flash of thought that makes you pause because these are the little runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out of your head.

Think about it like brainstorming. Don’t judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them on paper. Remember, this is your opportunity to eliminate subconscious stress by capturing items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and then evaluated later in your trusted system.

Once you complete your mind-sweep you need to be able to capture stuff as it happens in your life on an ongoing basis.

Capturing “stuff” on an ongoing basis

It is critical that you equip yourself with tools that allow you to capture stuff whether you are; at home, the office, the gym, the car, on a walk or just on-the-go somewhere. This is a critical point. You need to be able to capture stuff wherever you are so it is important to make it easy to capture your stuff at the moment it comes to you. This can be your smartphone or a pad of paper, index cards or just about anything as long as you have it with you at all times and it is super easy to use.

Some people choose analog capture because they like the feel of paper or are just more comfortable with analog solutions. That’s fine, but I choose a digital solution. Either way can work. Paper aficionados swear by the simplicity of pen and paper. It is hard to argue with that logic and it has worked for centuries. There are many note-taker solutions designed to be kept with you at all times on the market that work well.

I use Evernote to for this purpose because it is the perfect place to both capture and process my stuff because it is available on all the devices I use (Nexus, Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC) and it automatically syncs to all my devices. Another reason I prefer this method is notes captured on my phone are “born digital” and therefore I do not have to type them into my system from paper which eliminates double entry.

Since we all carry our mobile phones with us at all times, if your going to go the digital route then your phone is the logical capture device when you pair it with Evernote. Whenever you have an idea, think of something or make a commitment, it’s easy to capture it in Evernote on your phone. If you reduce the friction you experience when capturing ideas, actions items and commitments, you’ll naturally capture more of them.

Regardless of whether you use an analog or digital system, there are two critical components to an effective capture system. First, you must always have it with you so you can immediately capture your stuff whenever and wherever you are. Second, you have to have a friction-free system for capturing your stuff. If there is any friction in your capture system you will tend to not capture that idea/task/deliverable/commitment right there in the moment.

So, that is the first phase of GTD – Capture. Next time I will discuss phase 2 – Clarify where you go through the stuff that you collected in step one and give it meaning.

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About Michael Keithley
Digital Transformation CIO and Public Speaker. Previously, CIO at Creative Artists Agency

2 Responses to The 5 phases of GTD – Phase 1 “Capture”

  1. Pingback: The 5 phases of GTD – Phase 1 “Capture” | Getting Things Done accountant

  2. david_h says:

    I like the idea of taking pictures of all your home items and capturing it there. My biggest problem is the forced disconnect between my work life and home life. Our firm doesn’t allow additional applications like Evernote nor does it allow syncing of any kind to web based services like OneNote. I end up with one system for work (Outlook & OneNote) and a second for home (mishmash of things).

    I need to find a frictionless capture & tracking process for the home is what it comes down to.

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