The power of instant capture

NASA-SpiralGalaxyM101-20140505As a kid one of the things I thought was so cool about Star Trek, along with the instant opening doors, and the communicators, phasers, and transporter, was the omniscient computer.  All you had to do was address the computer by voice (makes you wonder why they had the consoles at all…) and you could access the sum of universal knowledge.  And the computer was always recording, so in a couple of episodes they were able to bring up the computer’s video records and replay what had happened previously.

Setting aside the privacy concerns (they were in the military after all…) as I got older I frequently wished for instant recall: the ability to augment my feeble memory with a replay of earlier events (even what I’d just missed on the radio).  I love the rewind on DVRs for the same reason.

Since I don’t have an omniscient system for recall, the best I can do is capture items the instant they come to my attention.  That was one of the first principles of GTD that produced immediate results in my previous job, and it saved my bacon everyday.  I started with a pocket notebook (Moleskin thin, don’t see them anymore), and then a succession of Palm PDAs, ultimately replaced by a smartphone.  Whenever someone would bring up something I needed to track, I’d make a note.  Have an idea, make a note.  Need milk, make a note.  Hear about a book on NPR, make a note (while trying not to crash the car).  I got some of my best ideas while driving, so I eagerly adopted Jott, an app that would record an audio note, transcribe it to text and then email it to me.  Since my thoughts frequently related to my @work context, next time I opened my email there it was, ready to be filed or acted upon.

I’m still amazed by how few people do this.  Some certainly have better memories than I do, but whenever I ask someone to do something and don’t see them make a note (digital or otherwise) I wonder if they’re going to follow through.  And more than half the time they don’t.

Jott’s morphed into something else, and I haven’t yet found a replacement.  I use Omnifocus as my primary GTD system, and Evernote for archiving, and both of them have good capture capabilities.  I have both on all three platforms (phone, ipad and laptop), and tend to use Omnifocus’ Quick Entry feature the most, especially on my laptop.  I used it several times during my daily pages this morning: I’d been steaming along writing about one thing, and “I need to send email about the banquet” popped into my head, and all I had to do was hit a key command, type it into the text box, and go on writing.  When I sit down to process my Omnifocus inbox later it will be there, ready to be acted upon.

Evernote is a particularly powerful tool for capturing information you may want to save, but not necessarily need to take action on.  The Evernote servers run OCR (optical character recognition) on any images you upload, and once that indexing is done all that text is searchable.  That means that you can take a photo of a document, sign or menu, upload it to evernote, and later search for text contained in that image.  It even manages fairly well with handwriting (not mine, but I can’t OCR mine).  I’ve never tried OneNote, but apparently it does the same thing as well or better.

The keys for any capture system are

  • it has be fast (I called j=Jott several times only to forget what I wanted to capture before getting connected…I know, there’s no hope for me)
  • it has to be reasonably accurate  (saving the original recording or image for reference is a plus)
  • it has to be with you at ALL times

It’s a bonus if the tools you use can be tied together, so that all the bits of info or inspiration can be routed into a pre-exiting inbox.  But the most important characteristic of any capture tool is…

you have to use it.




Filed under productivity

3 responses to “The power of instant capture

  1. Love to follow your thoughts as you describe things..some more complex and unreachable than others… and also enjoy how the finish line always intrigues me….”You must ‘use it’ indeed”…. Must say this new world of initials for everything leaves me a bit befuddled.. pretty often.. I know its a common language for those who have something in common.. but i do worry its fast becomming a scarey short cut to thoughtful exchange in communication….. As always, i find your writing interesting and thought provoking… i just stashed my smart stick under the desk..and decided to try the after noon with out using it…film at eleven …Cheers,e

  2. nydia

    Gaaah I have so have had an identity crisis w/which tools are best for me, Steve. I’ve landed on a blend of paper and app. I found that avoiding writing notes on paper from time to time made my handwriting like Linear A (or B…haven’t confirmed). Such a splintered space, this note-keeping, porcupine of productivity.

    • It doesn’t matter what you use as long it feeds into inboxes you empty regularly. One of my problems is a tendency to obsess over tools instead of getting things done, which is one if the reasons I haven’t touched one note. Thanks!