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You may have read about what I think are the components of a good set of productivity tools. There is one ancillary tool that is necessary that I haven’t yet mentioned, and that is a “capture tool.”

Because your brain is not obedient, thoughts jump into your mind unbidden, and often at inopportune moments: when you can’t do anything about it. Perhaps you’re trying to focus on that client proposal, and the fact that you need to submit your expense report jumps into your mind.  Or you’re having dinner with your family and you remember that you forgot to respond to an important email. Thoughts are often uninvited but this is the only way your brain has to remind you of those things you are trying not to forget. The only way to quiet your mind so that you can:

  • control your attention
  • be present in the moment and
  • focus on the task at hand,

is to capture that thought and enter it into your workflow management process so that you can take action at the appropriate time.

One popular way that people capture these thoughts is to carry a voice recorder, or utilize the voice recorder feature of their smart phone.  The idea does get captured that way, but unfortunately, without a prompt to remember to listen to the recordings, this could just become a black hole of thoughts and ideas that never see the light of day again.

Since most people are in the habit of checking their voicemails, leaving yourself a message could be a good alternative. I find this somewhat inefficient because then my voicemail box gets cluttered with messages to myself, and those from other people tend to get buried.

Ideally, a good capture tool will not only capture the information, but it will then present it to you at a time and place that it is convenient to act upon. For this reason, I like to use email as a capture tool. Then I know the message will appear to me again when I am sitting at my desk and can move the item through the proper process of immediate action, delegation, suspense for future action, etc.

A smartphone offers several options for emailing myself and I take advantage of all of them. Sometimes it’s appropriate to type, but not to speak. In those cases, I use my iPhone to send myself an email. Sometimes it’s appropriate to speak but not type, like when I’m in the middle of doing something else. When this is the case, I use the Voice Memo app that comes pre-loaded on the iPhone. Here you can record a note to yourself, and then email the audio recording to you or to someone else. There are many voice recording apps for all smartphones, just search the app store of your device.

If the voice recording isn’t enough, there is a service-app called ReQall that will not only record the item for you, but also provide voice-to-text transcription, and in some cases automatically add the item to your calendar or to-do list. It can also send you a reminder about that item, by text and by email. This can be handy for location-based reminders. For example, let’s say you’re meeting a friend for coffee at Whole Foods tomorrow from 9-10am. While you’re there, you want to remember to pick up some muffins from their bakery. You could set up ReQall to text you at 9:55, so you’ll receive the reminder to buy the muffins while you’re still sitting in Whole Foods, and wrapping up with your friend.

A capture tool is critical to keeping everything out of your head, because you can only manage what you can see, and you can only see what’s outside your head.  Storing things outside your mind gives you clarity about what needs to be done, and clarity brings piece of mind and lowers your stress level.  That’s why keeping everything out of your head is a critical piece of any successful workflow management system like the Empowered Productivity System.

What’s your capture tool?

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For more great images from Shawn P. Thomas, check out his website.