“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” ~ David Allen
One of the fundamental principles on which the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology is based on — in order to achieve an effective life with the least amount of stress — is the need to keep a clear head.
The reason is simple. Everything in your mind acts as noise. They are interferences that reduce your focus on what you’re doing at the moment, block your creativity and contribute to stress and anxiety.
Another reason why you should empty your head and put all those things in one place that you can check whenever necessary, is that if you don’t have a clear picture of all your possibilities you won’t be able to make good decisions.
The fact that you have a lot of commitments taking up space in your head, without any sort of arrangement, doesn’t allow you to have a clear vision of everything you have pending and stops you from being able to evaluate the relevance of each thing. Faced with such a confusing scenario, the most normal thing is to have no idea where to start working. For this reason, many times you unconsciously decide to procrastinate.
When your head is full of little things, inevitably some get lost, and with them, you miss opportunities. Haven’t you ever had a great idea that you haven’t been able to remember? Haven’t you ever found information that seemed interesting to you and then couldn’t remember where you saw it?
In GTD, capture (or collect) is writing down or logging, out of your head, anything that happens to you (an idea, something you remember, a new task that appears, a new need, contact information, an appointment, etc.). Out of the head means that it has to be dumped in an external and reliable system, such as a notebook, a computer or a mobile phone, for example. That’s the way to clear your mind.
It’ s the first stage of GTD and its difficulty lies in that:
- You must always have at hand a reliable tool that allows you to capture anything.
- You must create the habit of capturing everything, every time, and in an immediate way. Thinking “I’ll do it later” isn’t like actually doing it. In fact, that kind of thought leads to do nothing most of the time.
So you need to have a tool (maybe more than one) that allows you to capture something quickly, as soon as it appears. It must be a ubiquitous tool —things don’t just happen in the office or at home—, it must be part of your lifestyle. And it would be very helpful if it allowed you to capture stuff in different ways. Sometimes it’s not possible to type a text (for example, when you’re driving) and recording a voice memo can be the solution. Other times, it’s just a lot more convenient to capture an image.
All this makes a smartphone the ideal capture tool nowadays, as long as we provide it with a software that is able to dump everything we collect into a single inbox. And make sure you always carry a small notebook with you, because sometimes there’s no good network, there’s no battery left, or we’re just in a situation where it’s more convenient to use the pen and paper.
In any case, capturing everything that distracts you in an external memory is, as some scientists say, something fundamental to being able to have an effective life without stress, since the brain is not the best place to store things. If you don’t capture everything that reaches your head, every time, you won’t trust your system because it will only contain a part of your reality, you won’t eliminate stress and you’ll end up giving up. It’s that simple.