Perhaps you know the familiar phrase from the field of computer science, “Garbage In, Garbage Out“? Well, the same goes for your GTD system. Here’s a big surprise: if you feed your GTD system incomplete or incorrect input in the Collection phase, you will never get reliable or useful output in the Doing phase (next actions).

Ubiquitous capture is a well-known principle in the collection phase of the GTD workflow. If done well, it helps you to generate useful, complete and correct input for your GTD system. To help you optimize your ubiquitous capturing, I have compiled a list of 10 useful tips from my own experience.

10 Useful Tips for Optimizing Ubiquitous Capture

Before I give you my list of 10 tips, I would like to share the evolution of my ubiquitous capture tool (UCT) with you. I probably forgot some of the things I used as UCT, but here are a few. At one point I bought a stack of expensive Moleskines and used several of them as my UCT. This violates several of the rules described below: it’s expensive and it doesn’t invite you to create quick and dirty notes. Then I started to collect digital notes on my laptop (e.g. plain text files). Violations: not really portable, not simple and not quick. I used the same principle with my Windows Mobile PDA. Though portable, it’s not quick enough and certainly expensive. I finally settled on a small set of UCTs: scraps of paper (could be anything ripped to small pieces) and a simple pen; and sometimes voice notes with my mobile phone. It’s simple, cheap, quick, fun and they complement each other perfectly!

1. Use simple and quick tools
If it takes too much hassle or time to even whip out your tools, you’re definitely not going to use them in the heat of the moment when inspiration strikes and you need to jot down something quickly. The same goes for cool but complicated tools, for instance a PDA. If it takes 3 minutes to jot down an idea because you insist on using a stylus to tap-tap-tap your note on your PDA, then pretty soon you will resist doing it at all!

2. Use tools that are fun
If you really enjoy using your tools to capture thoughts, ideas and other “stuff”, it is much more likely that you will actually do so when it is most needed. Using a nice pen, nice looking paper, or whatever floats your boat, will definitely motivate you to capture everything.

3. Use cheap or dispensable tools
I told you about my Moleskines. They are really, really nice! However, they are so nice that you want to write something nice into them as well. You start resisting jotting down a quick note or two, because after all a Moleskine deserves better, right? Wrong! You need to start using tools that are cheap and dispensable so you won’t resist taking any kind of note that crosses your mind, when it crosses your mind. If I use simple scraps of paper and a very cheap pen to capture my “stuff”, I don’t really care about losing my pen or writing neatly.

4. Use compact and portable tools
Remember the principle is actually ubiquitous capturing. That means you want to use tools that can be carried with you anywhere. When I was still using my PDA for capturing things, I didn’t take it with me everywhere. Sometimes it just didn’t fit my pocket or I was worried it would get stolen. Once you catch yourself leaving your UCT at home once in a while, it will be the beginning of the end to ubiquitous capturing!

5. Start building in redundancy
My ubiquitous capturing has become so convenient and so simple since I started using a simple pen and some scraps of paper, that I can’t really imagine using something else anymore. What’s more, I started building in redundancy by leaving scraps of fresh paper and some pens around the house, in my car, at my office, in my pocket and in my bag. You will not ever catch me without a pen and paper, either on me or very near to me!

6. Create a small set of tools that complement each other
Don’t use too many different UCTs. However, sometimes different situations call for different UCTs. You won’t catch me writing down stuff in my car, well, not very often anyway! The funny thing is that in my car I have time to think or make a few phone calls and I actually need to capture a lot of “stuff”. Here’s my solution. I created a small set of tools that complement each other. I’ve mentioned pen and paper a couple of times for ordinary situations, but in my car I use my mobile phone to record voice notes. Now I have truly ubiquitous capture (except for the shower!).

7. Process what you captured frequently
Now that your capturing phase of the GTD workflow is starting to become really smooth, you don’t want to create a new bottleneck downstream. Make it a habit to process all the stuff you’ve captured at least once a day. If you collect too much before actually processing it, you will start resisting taking more notes!

8. Use your own shorthand to speed up writing stuff down
In order to optimize your capturing experience even further, it might be very useful to create your own (simple) notational system, consisting of symbols, abbreviations or any other thing that speeds up writing stuff down. For instance, I use the @-sign to indicate that I need to email something, I use an arrow to indicate actions or commitments, I use “vm” to indicate a voicemail, et cetera, et cetera. Use what works best for you!

9. Datestamp everything, and I mean everything
This little tip is going to save you more than once, believe me. Most of the time it is not important when something happened, but there will be occasions when you will be glad you can faithfully reproduce the exact date when something was promised, decided, or even given to you. The effort of writing down the current date on your note is small compared to the huge, potential benefit of this. Try it and let me know if it works for you too!

10. Tell other people why you are writing things down
My final tip for now has to do with people who give you a funny look when you whip out your UCT in the middle of a conversation. I can imagine a few situations in which I would feel awkward or inhibited to use my UCT. Explaining GTD is sometimes uncalled for or simply too much work. What works for me is the following. If I get a funny look when I whip out my UCT and take a quick note, I always tell them: “Hold on, what you’re telling me now is so funny/important/interesting that I don’t want to forget it!“. It works every time!

For additional tips and information, please see my following articles:
* 18 Tricks to Instantly Improve your GTD System
* Ask the Reader – Best GTD Tip? Plus: My Best GTD Tip
* How To: Fix Leaks In Your GTD System
* Ask the Reader – Favorite Ubiquitous Capture Tool?
* Quick Note-taking Tip
* Mobile Phone as GTD Inbox

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