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.

Advertisements

How to get back in control

Mind-SweepWhenever we lose steam in our GTD practice, I feel like the most powerful exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.”  Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control.

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. You need to capture all of the “open loops” in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things.

If it’s not being directly managed in an external trusted system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche 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.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The 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 use Fast Ever Snap to take pictures of things that I want/need 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 changing the driveway to bricks. Just start capturing everything. Then go to the side of the house, then the backyard, the garage, and every room in your house. Don’t skip closets of drawers as they can easily be a source of subconscious stress. Do I need to go thru the file drawer to find those important papers? How about that junk drawer in the kitchen?

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 anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain.

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every flash of thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out.

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 convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two.  I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 10 minutes is up, look at the list and process it.  Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

How I use Evernote to run my life (part 2)

Evernote LogoA few weeks ago I outlined how I set up Evernote to be the basis of my Trusted System that I use to run my life.  Now, I am going to share how I use this system in my daily life.

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.  Almost every morning during the week I go to the gym and alternate between Pilates, cardio  and strength training workouts.

On the cardio days, I use the elliptical trainer and my iPad to read while listening to a up-beat playlist to motivate me to keep my heart rate up.  I start out reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times to catch up on what is going on in the world.  If I find an article that I want to keep, I use the “share” function to email it and I send it to my Evernote email address.

Keeping up with information

RSSThen I go on to process my RSS Feeds via Feedly. I love Feedly as my replacement for Google Reader and Feedler Pro. It works across the web on Mac or PC, iOS and Android so no matter what device I am using, I can process my feeds and it will sync across devices.

Sharing information with the world

BufferIf I find an article that I want to share with the world, I use Buffer to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn.  I highly recommend Buffer because it allows you to schedule your tweets and posts so they don’t all come at the same time. This allows your followers to consume your tweets and posts easier.

Leveraging audio content

PodcastsOn strength training  days, I listen to podcasts on my iPhone with the Apple Podcasts player. I use Fast Ever to add the location of the bookmarks that I place in the podcasts to follow-up on them later in Evernote.

Processing email to zero

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

  Processing web sites

web clipperIf I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Processing physical paper

scansnapIf I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

Fast EverIf I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text or use Sound Ever to record it as a voice memo.

Capturing ideas or actionable items while driving

Siri

Similarly, If I am driving, I use Siri to do a voice to text conversion to send it to Evernote.  Try it. It works surprisingly well.

All of these processes end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my -Unprocessed folder in Evernote ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

Phone or paper for on-the-go collection of your stuff?

pen paper phoneWhich is better – paper or smartphone – for capturing your “stuff” when you are out and about?  I know many people who successfully use both solutions for the capture phase of their systems.  Truth be told, either will work fine.

I use Evernote on my phone as my ubiquitous capture tool for several reasons. I always have my phone on me and with tools like Fast Ever for iOS or the Evernote Widget for Android adding stuff to my trusted system is fast and easy. 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.

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.

There are two keys to either system – analog or digital.  First, you must always have it with you so you can immediately capture your stuff whenever and wherever your are. Second, you have to have a friction-free system for capturing your stuff. If their is any friction in your capture system you will tend to not capture that idea/task/deliverable/commitment/etc. right there in the moment.

Even though most people always carry their phone, some of the most savvy GTDers also use pen and paper for collection.  The key is to know what methods reduce the friction in your system and will be available at all times. If the device is not easy to use for getting stuff off your mind and into your trusted GTD system, you’ll tend to use it less.

How do you get things off your mind when you are mobile? Phone, paper, or a combination?

Here are some of my previous posts on capturing your stuff:

Using Evernote as the foundation of your GTD system

You must have your capture device with you at all times

Getting Started – The Initial Capture

Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

SiriI use Siri on my iPhone to capture any idea that comes to me when I am driving. It is fantastic because I don’t have to unlock my phone, launch an app, or type anything that would distract me from driving. All I have to do is hold down the home button on my iPhone and wait for the familiar beep that is Siri. Then I say “text inbox” and whatever I want added to my trusted system. It is that easy!

Here is what you need to do. Set up a contact called Inbox in the Last Name field of your contacts with your Evernote email address. Once you have this you are ready to go.

The reason you use text instead of email is Siri asks for the subject when you email but not when you text. Now, when you go to your default Evernote folder (Unprocessed for me) you will have a “Mailed In Note” with your “stuff” in the body of the note.

This is a simple way to avoid distracted driving while capturing your “stuff” in the car. For most recent cars that have bluetooth integration you can use the cars built in microphone and speakers to truly make it an integrated experience.

Try it, you will be amazed how well it works.

Fall of the GTD Bandwagon? Do a “Mind Sweep”

In GTD the vital first stage is Collection. Whenever we loose steam in our GTD flow, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.”  Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control.

The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things. David says “put your attention on what has your attention.”

If it’s not being directly managed in a trusted external system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche 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. So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it’s precisely the place to start when you’re trying to properly get back into it.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The Mind-Sweep

If you are just starting GTD (as opposed to falling off the bandwagon) then you need to do an Initial Capture like I described in a blog post here otherwise, you need to do a mind-sweep to get back on the bandwagon. It is really simple.  Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 10 minutes, and just begin scraping every conceivable anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain.

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every flash of thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out.  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 convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two. Remember, your brain is smarter than you, and it can’t be tricked into thinking that things are taken care of when they actually aren’t. I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 10 minutes is up, look at the list and process it.  Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

Getting started – the “Initial Capture”

Now that you have set up your trusted system and have your capture devices, the first thing you must do to get started with GTD is to capture all your “stuff.”  Stuff is literally anything and everything that you need to do something about.  It may not be something you are going to do soon.  You may not even be sure if it something you actually will commit to doing now but you might want to do it at a future time. If so, you must capture it.  Capturing all your stuff is extremely important because once you do you will feel a great sense of relief once you get it out of your head and into your trusted system.

If you are just getting started with GTD, you will have to do a onetime initial capture of all your stuff.  After this initial capture you will only need to capture the new stuff that has come into your life since the initial capture.  Please resist the temptation to get right to it and skip this initial capture.

For your initial capture I recommend taking your smartphone and literally walk around your home and office to capture everything.  Say you start in your garage and you see something that needs to be dealt with like organize garden tools or inventory your tool chest or wash the car.  You need to capture all of these things. Don’t worry about making judgments about the stuff or what list it needs to go on.  Your goal is to just capture it at this point.  You will process it into the appropriate category and decide exactly what to do about the stuff later.

Walk around your home from room to room, front yard to back yard and capture everything that has your attention.  Then go to your office and capture everything there.  Go to each physical place you spend time and capture everything.  There are three easy ways to do this with Evernote and your smartphone.

  1. Select Snapshot and take a picture of the stuff
  2. Select Voice and record a voice note about the stuff
  3. Select the Untitled Note field and type in the description of the stuff

For an even simpler way to capture into Evernote using an iPhone, try FastEver and FastEver Snap.  These apps are designed to capture text and photos into Evernote with the minimal amount of clicks.  I highly recommend spending the $1.99 for each of these applications.

I cannot emphasize how important it is to resist the urge to make judgments about your stuff during this initial capture.  All you are trying to do is to capture everything into your trusted system.  You will process your stuff later.  This initial capture will not take as long as you think it will and the payoff is huge so get started.  You will be amazed the sense of relief you will experience just by capturing everything.

The “initial capture” is a critical part of a successful GTD practice