GTD Notes: Chapter 05 – What has your attention?
This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.
My notes on Chapter 5 – Capturing: Corralling your “Stuff”
This chapter is all about capturing stuff, either physical or mental.
The book suggests as the first activity to go through our physical environments and put in our in-trays anything that doesn't belong where they are or that we think might have some potential action tied to them.
“You'll be gathering things that are incomplete, things that have some decision about potential action tied to them. They all go into “in”, so they'll be available for later processing. “ – David Allen
Let's say you identify that your printer has been malfunctioning for quite some time, and you want to do something about it. Instead of trying putting your printer in your in-tray (which will probably won't fit anyway) you just write on a piece of paper “Fix printer” and add that note to the in-tray.
This chapter describes a very detailed step by step method to go through all of our physical spaces:
- things on our desktops;
- things in our desk drawers;
- things in countertops;
- things in cabinets;
- floors, walls, shelves;
- equipment, furniture, fixtures, etc.
The idea is to look at each of those spaces and ask: “Any actionable items there? Anything that's out of place? Any broken things that need to fixed or trashed?”
It can be a daunting task depending on how much scattered stuff you have. For me, this exercise triggered a reflection many years ago: “Do I need to keep all this stuff?”. I'd say it was the first seed that got me into minimalism and then getting rid of 95% of my stuff and move to another country with only a carry-on and a suitcase.
David Allen mentions that it's not about “throwing things away that you might want”:
“You like having and keeping your twelve boxes of old journals and notes from college? You like keeping all kinds of nutty toys and artwork and gadgets around your office to spur creative thinking? No problem, as long as they are where you want them to be, in the form they're in, and you have anything you want or need to do about that captured and processed in your system.” – David Allen
Mental Gathering / Mind Sweep
After dealing with the physical realm, we move to what is inside our heads. This is also called brain dumping or mind sweep, and it's a valuable life lesson from GTD for me.
If this is your first time doing it, David suggests setting aside 20 min to 1 hour to grab pen and paper and start clearing your head.
We should go for quantity: use one sheet of paper for each item and add them to the in-tray, one by one. They will be individually processed in the next step.
The book provides a useful “incompletion trigger list” to help the brain dumping. The list is quite extensive, it covers every topic I can think of in terms of professional and personal aspects of our lives. The list is also available publicly in this link.
The results of my capturing
I did some physical collecting this weekend after reading this chapter and added a few things to my inbox. One of them was an empty box I got a few weeks back that I wanted to repurpose as a cables and accessories container for my home office. It was forgotten in the living room all this time, and it's in my in-tray ready to be put to use.
I used my small capturing notepad that I keep at my desk and did a 20-minute brain dump. I will confess: I have been neglecting this practice for a while. I'm thinking of incorporating a quick daily brain dump in my routine.
I usually collect things as I go, throughout the day, and it is often done digitally, adding to my Nirvana Inbox with my computer or phone. But there is something about stopping everything else to do a mind sweep session that gives immediate relief from stress. It feels that if it's done on paper, it's even better: I force myself to slow down to capture.
I did the same thing at work this morning, and now I have 2 in-trays to practice the Clarifying (Processing) step, which is covered in the next chapter.
My two full in-trays: Work (left) and Personal (right)
By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.