Join David Allen for an in-depth discussion in this video Capturing things that catch your attention, part of Getting Things Done.
First, let's focus on the "A-priori", first main thing, that you really have to do to get things under control and to get focused. And that's the stage called capture, you could use the word collect, or capture, or gather. It's a step that we work with, when we work with people. First thing we do, is we want to find all the things that have someone's attention. So in your case, you might look around wherever you are right now, and say what, what around me doesn't belong here permanently the way it is. Often when we work with people one-on-one.
The first thing we'll do is look around in their workspace, and say what doesn't belong here? What's not supplies, or reference material, or decoration, or equipment? Those four things, by the way, supplies, reference material, decoration, and equipment, are the only things that actually belong where they are, the way they are. Everything else represents something in transit, in motion, in progress. Something that probably represents something you need to finish, decide about, do, or do something with. So, that's the first thing, is just gathering physical reminders, and triggers of things that are, maybe it's a report sitting on your desk, or it's something you still need to read, or a memo you need to respond to, or maybe it's a, a flashlight with dead batteries in it that's sitting there, and you need to do something about.
So, all of that stuff should be gathered together, and, we love using in trays for that. You know, here's an the example of my in tray which I love. I use this more than anybody, because I need a place to be able to dump all the stuff from my pockets, from meetings, business cards, receipts. Anything like that. So, a physical in tray is a really cool tool, and a, a, really useful thing, just for yourself to use, to be able to, gather all that stuff together. Once we gather all the physical things that might represent something that's incomplete, or, as we say, an open loop. Something that still needs to be finished, or something done about it.
Then we say, okay, let's get your mind empty. We do what we call a mind sweep. A mind sweep would be simply, anything that you have your attention on, at all. I need dishwashing liquid, I've gotta get, change the oil in my car, I need to rewrite the strategic plan my aunt. Matilda is coming to visit. I need to handle all that. I've got a holiday coming up. I need to plan, etc, etc, etc. Those kinds of things. So, a lot of the getting things done methodology, is about paying attention to what has your attention.
And you don't have to go very far, to see what you need to apply this to. because all you have to do is start thinking, well, since you've been watching me, for instance, in this program, where has your mind gone. That had nothing to do with what I was talking about. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just an indicator that, hey, something is distracting me, pulling my attention. And that's the, what you want to gather. All of those. So, little things, big things, personal things, professional things. All of that. A great way to capture that, of course, is to write it down. That's the most obvious to do it.
So, pen and paper is really all you need to start emptying your head. I would recommend, by the way, that you actually capture those things, one per page, believe it or not, the trees would love it if they knew how you were using them, and how much value it would, it would create. But it's really nice to. You know, I need cat food, or a strategic plan. Whatever it is, and then capture all of that in some place. You might be surprised by the way, how much you have in there. Most people usually are. Most people really don't have a clue how many things you've committed to. How many things that you've got internally running like would, could, should, need to, ought to.
So, gathering that. For most people, by the way, that can take from one to six hours, just to gather together and identify, the things that are pulling on their psyche. So, that's the really first and important step, that needs to happen, is all of those things need to be gathered and identified. So, for each one of these five steps, I'll be talking about best practice. And worse practice, and also, the pati, the particular tools that you need to implement that step, or that stage. So, the best practice here in capture, is to make sure that you've grabbed some sort of placeholder for anything that's got your attention.
Little, big, personal, or professional, and some trusted place. Some trusted bucket. And a trusted bucket means I've put it somewhere, and I'm not going to lose it. I will get to it later. Before too long, and it's someplace that I trust. The worst practice is to make some agreement with yourself, some would, could, should, and leave it in your head, because that's the leakiest place in the world. Your head is a terrible office. And, you will actually be capturing and collecting anything you have attention on. If it's not in some trusted bucket, it will be in your head.
The problem is, is that part of your psyche, does not have any sense of past or future. It actually doesn't have much of a brain. It will tend to wake you up at 3 o'clock in the morning, about one of those incompletes, when you can't even do anything about it. So, you want to take the, the pressure essentially, off your mind, from having to remember and remind. It's not designed to do that. Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. So, this is a major, major habit change, by the way, for most adults. You know, most people are very used to keeping all kinds of things in your head.
Your mind will so seduce you and, can try to convince you that when you're thinking of it, you'll never forget it. Of course, two minutes later when you're thinking of the next thing you're sure you'll never forget, you forgot. You forgot the first thing. So, your mind is tricky. And you need to get smarter than your mind, and recognize, when it's got something that's going on in there, you want to make sure that's captured, and not, you know, in the leaky place, called your head. So, that's absolutely job one, if you're going to try to get things under control, and free up your attention, so you can focus on the most meaningful things.
You have to grab those things that are pulling on your attention. And it seems a little counter intuitive, because the reason a lot of those were not captured, was they were not the most. Urgent, or important, or strategic thing, in your life and your work. And so, you just kind of let it slide back there. But most people, are really amazed by how much energy starts to get freed up when you start to actually collect that stuff, and get it out of your head. That means you need tools. And the tools for collecting and capturing, are different than organizing tools. They are the tools that you need to be able to grab ideas, and thoughts, and things that come to you, later on to then decide what to do with them, and then you may organize the results of that.
But you need tools. The most obvious I've mentioned already, just pen and paper. You know, I carry my, my, my most critical tool for, you know, ideas I get, is right here in my pocket. And just writing stuff down. I don't know what's on here, but I will soon enough. I also then will take these notes, and put them in my own in tray, so that, they're not lost. Obviously, anything that can record an idea, you could use your smartphone, you could talk into it, you could call your own answering machine if you still have an answering machine or voicemail, and leave yourself a message.
You could write it on whiteboards. You could, any of that works, as long as you put it somewhere, that you know you won't lose it. So again, capture, collect, anything that has your attention. That's job one, and best practice is, get it all, get it out of your head, and, don't leave anything still lying around in the dusty corners of your mind. And then you just need to make sure you're using good capture tools, so that you can make sure you're not missing anything. And by the way, you know, the more sophisticated you get professionally, the more your good ideas about work will not happen at work.
You'll be buying bread at the store, and thinking of something to bring up at the marketing meeting. You'll be in the marketing meeting, remembering you need bread. So, you know, I like the idea that your mind is for having ideas. And you really need to have that idea just once. If you think about, I need cat food, more than once, then you're not really appropriately engaged with you, with your cat. You know, it just means there's something you haven't captured about that. So, that's the best practice. Grab it all, and have the great tools to do, be able to do that. And then we'll move on to the next steps. Because you can't just leave it there.
The next steps will make sure that you've got a downstream place, to be able to put the results of that stuff that you've captured.
NEW for 2015: In an exclusive bonus chapter, David Allen answers some of the most frequently asked questions he receives about Getting Things Done, including why GTD is different and how it can scale for larger teams and organizations.