Why Capture anything?
A capture list is a powerful tool that allows you to collect new ideas and tasks as they come up throughout the day. The primary rationale for having a capture list is to help manage and organise thoughts and responsibilities in a way that reduces mental clutter and improves productivity. Of all the changes I have implemented over the years to try to be more effective in my work and personal life, ensuring I can always capture ideas and tasks is one of the most key to feeling in control and confident that I am not missing something. This week I’m going to unpick some of the reasons why having a capture list can be helpful, and the various ways you can implement this approach.
There’s no magic here. I’m talking about a place to jot down everything significant as it occurs to you. Right then. Not hopefully remembering it till later when you have a notepad, or back in the office, or when you get home – right then. That’s it. You decide later what the information is for and where it goes, but capturing it when it turns up is the mission. There are some really good and well researched reasons to do this:
Avoid Forgetting: By having a dedicated space to capture new ideas and tasks, you’re less likely to forget important information. This can be especially important for busy individuals who have a lot of responsibilities to juggle.
Prioritise and Organise: A capture list allows you to prioritise and organise your thoughts and responsibilities more effectively. Once you’ve captured everything that needs to be done, you can prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency, and organise them in a way that makes sense for your workflow.
Reduce Mental Load: Trying to keep track of everything in your head can be exhausting and lead to stress and anxiety. By having a capture list, you can offload some of the mental burden and reduce stress levels.
Improve Efficiency: With a capture list, you can quickly capture new ideas and tasks as they come up, which can help you stay on track and avoid distractions. By doing so, you can improve your efficiency and focus on what’s most important.
The capture phase is one of the core principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology for project and task management, and turns up in some way in practically every productivity solution available.
What Could I Capture?
Here are some types of items that might be useful to capture using a capture list:
Ideas: Whenever you come up with a new idea for a project or task, write it down in your capture list. This can help you to keep track of your ideas and ensure that you don’t forget anything important.
Tasks: Anytime you think of a task that needs to be done, add it to your capture list. This can help you to organise your to-do list and ensure that you don’t overlook anything that needs to be done.
Reminders: If you need to remember to do something at a specific time or on a specific date, write it down in your capture list. This can help you to stay on track and ensure that you don’t forget important appointments or deadlines.
Questions: If you have a question that you need to research or ask someone, add it to your capture list. This can help you to remember to follow up on your question and ensure that you get the information you need.
Goals: Whenever you set a new goal for yourself, write it down in your capture list. This can help you to stay focused on your goals and ensure that you make progress towards achieving them.
I have found that using my capture list can extend to more or less every part of my life. Here are a few areas that are worth considering:
Personal Development: A capture list can be used to collect ideas for personal growth, such as books to read, skills to learn, or habits to develop.
Travel: When planning a trip, a capture list can help you keep track of everything from places to visit, to flights to book, to items to pack.
Event Planning: Whether you’re planning a wedding, a conference, or a birthday party, a capture list can be an invaluable tool to keep track of all the details.
Home Improvement: When tackling home improvement projects, a capture list can help you keep track of materials to purchase, tasks to complete, and ideas for future projects.
Work Projects: A capture list can be useful in many work contexts, from managing a to-do list, to brainstorming ideas for a new project, to collecting feedback from co-workers or clients.
What Tools Could I Use?
There are various tools available that can help with capturing new ideas and tasks. The tools you choose will depend on your personal preference and the type of ideas or tasks you need to capture. If you need to keep a lot of technical ideas tat require drawing or sketching, your needs will be different from someone who just needs to not forget to buy bread, or someone who mainly captures a list of call backs. Experiment with different tools to find the ones that work best for you. Here are some examples:
A physical in-tray: This is perhaps the first as most of us still get some physical post and a place to put it every time before dealing with it is a great and simple change that makes sure you never lose any of it. You can also throw in any physical items like receipts, post-its, ideas on napkins or anything else you’ve jotted down randomly not to lose. Reducing your physical post and opting for digital bills and communication is worth considering, but that’s for a different day.
Note-taking apps: These apps allow you to quickly jot down your ideas and tasks on your phone, tablet or computer. Some popular note-taking apps include Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep, and Simplenote.
To-do list apps: These apps help you create and manage a list of tasks that you need to complete. Some popular to-do list apps include Todoist, Trello, Asana, and Wunderlist.
Voice memo apps: These apps allow you to record your thoughts and ideas using your phone’s microphone. Some popular voice memo apps include Voice Memos (for iPhone), Easy Voice Recorder (for Android), and Rev Voice Recorder (for both iOS and Android).
Mind-mapping tools: These tools help you visualize your ideas and their relationships in a hierarchical or networked structure. Some popular mind-mapping tools include MindMeister, XMind, and Coggle.
Whiteboards and Sticky notes: Physical tools like whiteboards, sticky notes, and index cards can be used to capture and organize ideas and tasks in a more visual way. They allow you to rearrange and group ideas as needed.
Pencil and Paper: First and foremost, having a notepad everywhere you can to jot those ideas down is a cheap and quick win. I have one by the bed for when I wake with an idea, by the front door for as I get home, by the landline (yep, just about still got one of those!), by the shower (that’s a waterproof one), in my car door pocket, you get the idea.
What else can I ‘capture’?
I have found this approach works well beyond the obvious purposes and tools. Here are a few examples that I have really come to rely on:
Capturing new music: I subscribe to Apple Music, so often come across new tracks and artists via their recommended playlists. Having a capture playlist means I can quickly add anything that peaks my interest to this list, to review later and decide if I want to investigate their music further.
Capturing new videos: The same works well for YouTube, Vimeo, etc. This is not the ‘Watch Later’ or ‘Play Next’ lists, but a specific ‘Capture’ playlist that I can add things to that I know are important to me later, not just interesting or entertaining.
Capturing books to read: I read a lot. I make sure I have a reading capture list in all my note taking locations so I can quickly add books I hear about, authors I want to investigate or topics I think of. This works really well to extend to watch/listen/contact lists in a similar way.
Holiday/Activity List: Every time someone suggest a great place to eat, place to visit, activity to do I add it to this list. In that way I am now never short of suggestions for what to do with free time.
On The Move
A natural extension of this is to utilise the increasing range of dictate and voice control (think Siri, Cortana, Alexa) tools for on the move.
In the car I regularly utilise Siri within Apple Carplay to capture ideas to Reminders on my iPhone. You can do this on your Apple Watch or iPhone any time, but in the car is particularly helpful.
One or Many Tools?
I have a few as you can tell. Pencil and paper is still a beautifully tactile experience compared to almost any digital tool, but sacrifices convenience because of size, portability, not synchronising to other locations, but does win on simplicity, battery life and cost.
Digitally I love a good to task app. At work that is Microsoft To Do, and at home it is Apple’s own Reminders. I’ll talk more about them both at some point, but the universality, solid sync and integrations are key. I capture straight to them often, because it is immediately obvious to me if I am capturing a work or personal thought. If you can reduce this to one app, even better.
I also love the Drafts app, as it’s whole thing is that you capture first then decide what the idea is for and where it goes afterwards. Thoughts can sit in the app till later, or you can fire them off to another tool with a customisable range of tools such as sending to note tools, task managers, social media apps, messaging apps, or build lists inside Drafts itself. It is hugely customisable and a great deal of fun.
The Dangers of Capture Lists
Lastly, make sure that your capture list does not become your to do list! This can often happen, as it feels like the most important stuff. But its not, its just the most recent or loudest stuff. Think about your Eisenhower Matrix – to be effective means to be strategic. If you collect many ideas and tasks, you need to take all the things you capture and sort them. First into what is tasks and what is information, and then into projects, contexts, locations, priorities. Only then can you really chose what to do. More on that soon, but don’t just use this list as THE list! 🙂
Overall, using capture lists is a simple yet effective strategy that can help you stay organised, reduce stress, and improve your productivity. I’d love to hear how you are already utilising this approach, what tools work for you, or what difference it makes if you have now put this in place.