Systems & Tips

Principles and Techniques for Using a Capture Device

If you’re convinced about the benefits of having a capture device, how do you go about actually using one in real life?

Here are some basic principles to follow, as well as some of my own personal thoughts on how to get the most from your capture device strategy.

Capture Only

The capture device is just the first step in the process of organizing your life and schedule. When a thought comes to you, just write it down or record it and then go about your day. Don’t stop at that time to think about what the next steps are or how you’re going to implement your thought. The exception to this is if you’re driving on a long trip or something similar and have a lot of time to think.

Be sure to separate your capture device from your to-do list.

Have Devices Handy

Always have a device accessible.

At my desk, I enter things into my computer. When reading or studying, I keep a pad nearby to jot down thoughts. I carry a pocket-sized pad and pen around in my pocket whenever I’m not at home. Some people use their smart phones, but I prefer a pen and paper (I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post).

I have a pad and pen beside my bed and in the restroom. When driving, I have a small digital audio recorder in the console beside me. It’s easy to operate, so I can use it without taking my eyes off the road.

The shower provides a unique challenge. I don’t really have a capture device for bathing – it just never really mattered that much to me. The worst case scenario is that I just step out of the shower, track water a few feet across tile, and write on the pad I have in the restroom. But I have heard of people using magnetic doodlers, diving slates, or writing on the walls with bathtub crayons.

Method for Input into Your System

There’s a problem with having all these capture tools: how do you remember what you’ve written and where you’ve written it?

It does you no good to capture great ideas if they don’t get processed and into your scheduling system in a timely manner. The more devices you have, the greater the chance of this happening. And when it does come time to process your captured thoughts, you don’t want to waste a lot of time running around to check all these notepads for captured thoughts.

The expert advice is to have just as many devices as you need – but not more – thus lowering the number of devices you have to check. This is decent advice, but I think a better procedure is to have a method for inputting your captured thoughts into your system.

Most of the time, I’m capturing things in my pocket notepad. So at convenient times (when I get into the office, back from break, in between working on projects, etc.), I check my pocket notepad, rip out any pages with captured thoughts, and put those in my physical inbox. At the very least, I do this at the end of the day when I’m wrapping up my work and setting the table for tomorrow. I then leave those notes in the inbox until I process them with everything else in my inbox.

When I capture an idea on another source, like the pad I have in my restroom, then I do a bit of “pre-processing.” I decide if the thought I’ve captured is something I want to input into my system quickly or if it’s something that can wait a while to be processed (like an idea for a blog post or a book I’d like to purchase).

If an idea needs to be processed quickly, I rip off the sheet and put it in my pocket. That way, it’s there when I check my pocket notepad to process it.

If an idea can wait, I just leave it in the notepad. Then when I do my weekly review, I check all the notepads that I have, rip off the pages, and input at that time.

I do the same thing with my audio recorder for the car. If I can wait to process a thought, I leave the recorder in my car until my weekly review. If I want to input something immediately, I put the recorder in my pocket. After I’m done, I put the recorder with my keys and wallet so I remember to grab it and put it back in the car when I’m heading out somewhere.

All of this may sound a little too obsessive and uptight. But I’ve found the less I have to remember about what I’ve captured and where, the more airtight my system gets and the more I am inclined to use it. The more effort and brainpower it takes, the more I’ll tell myself “Eh, I’ll just remember that. No need to write it down.”

This sounds like a minor nitpicky thing – but as I’ll explore in the next post, making your capture device as easy and convenient to use as possible is the key to reaping the benefits.

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