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

You must have your “Capture Device” with you at all times

It is critical that you equip yourself with tools that support you whether you are; at home, the office, the gym, the car or on-the-go.  We all spend at least some part of our work day “out and about” and you need a way to keep your GTD lists and related information with you so that you can work from your lists, and manage your work no matter where you are.  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 a pad of paper, index cards or just about anything as long as you have it with you at all times.

I used to use Outlook Tasks to capture my “stuff” but now I have found Evernote to be the perfect place to capture and process my “stuff” because it is available on all the devices I use (iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC) and it automatically syncs to all my devices.

Since we all carry our mobile phones with us at all times, your phone is the logical capture device when you pair it with Evernote.  Whenever you have an idea 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.

I use my iPhone as my capture device

Setting up Evernote to create your Trusted System

Now that you have created your Evernote account, you need to set it up to be your trusted system.  The first thing you need to do is to set up 11 notebooks in Evernote which will be the basis for your trusted system.  In Evernote create the following notebooks:

  1.  – Unprocessed – the default folder where unprocessed items will go (make sure to add the – )
  2. Agendas – lists of things to discuss with individuals
  3. Areas of Focus – lists of big picture items that are your “North Star” to guide you
  4. Calls – list of the calls you need to make
  5. Errands – list of next actions you need to do outside of your home or office
  6. Home – list of next actions you have to physically do at home
  7. Next Actions – list of the next action you need to do in order to drive your projects towards “done”
  8. Projects – list of desired outcomes that require more than one action to complete
  9. Reference – list of items that you want to keep for future reference
  10. Someday/Maybe – list of ideas that you’d like to work on someday, but not committing to right now
  11. Waiting For – list of items that you have delegated or are waiting for someone else to do

The combination of my Calendar, Contacts and Evernote  make up my trusted system.

Get everything out of your head and into a “Trusted System”

BrainMany people (either consciously or unconsciously) try to keep track of everything they need to do in their mind, which is a big mistake. Our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not storage.  Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot going on.  The best way to stop mentally thrashing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it.

We all use trusted systems today and probably don’t know it.  Your calendar is a trusted system.  Once you put a meeting or appointment into your calendar your brain “lets go of it” and no longer keeps it in your subconscious.  Why does your brain “forget” that meeting?  Because it “trusts” your “system” (calendar) to remember it for you.

Similarly, your Contacts or Rolodex is a trusted system too. Remember back when you used to remember people’s phone numbers?  Not long ago, some people prided themselves on their ability to remember tens or hundreds of phone numbers.  How silly does that seem today?  Why bother taking up long-term memory with that task when you can have a computer, smartphone or physical Rolodex do that job for you?  Your brain trusts your system to remember the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.

When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more.  In GTD, there is no distinction between business and personal – it is all “stuff” you need to do and it needs to get into your trusted system.