The Capture Habit

4 min readApr 24, 2024


“Words fly away, writings remain” — Latin proverb

Thoughts pop into our minds and leave as fast as they came in, and create a chain reaction of other thoughts that are equally temporary. Every human being experiences this flow of ideas, which are largely lost, because the capacity of the human working memory only lasts a few seconds and reaches a maximum of only four elements.

Capturing is a simple but very powerful habit, as it allows us to give a concrete and real form to the thoughts that are distracting our attention:

Don’t trust your brain. If something catches your attention, get it out of your head and put it in a place where you can review it later.

It is when we ignore these distractions, however small, that we begin to lose control of our world.

For most people, however, capturing unfinished business as it comes to mind doesn’t seem important or a priority. Let alone doing proactive capture exercises that require time and effort, such as mind sweeping, brainstorming, or de-cluttering. Many people think they have more important things to do.

I hope to convince you that capturing all commitments and ideas that have some meaning for you is a habit that, whether you use the GTD methodology or not, will change your life for the better. Read on.

Gaining control and eliminating stress

All those thoughts that accumulate and get lost in our psyche generate constant stress. The problem is that this stress is so usual that it seems like a minor matter to many people who are used to living that way. Only when you get into the habit of capturing all things out of your head do you realize how rewarding it is and what a relief it is. And how different it is to live without that stress!

Unresolved memory items generate stress and continue to consume energy and attention even when we are not consciously thinking about them. This is the so-called Zeigarnik effect.

When your head is ruled by the distractions caused by incomplete things, you can only inhabit the “little control” quadrants of the Self-Management Matrix. These quadrants characterize people who accumulate in their heads things that are not well defined, which makes it difficult for them to focus on what is important and pushes them to find refuge in the urgent. Paradoxically, in these situations, anything other than putting out fires seems like a waste of time.

It is true that you will never have everything captured, well defined and organized; but that is precisely why it is important to strive to create this habit. When you capture 100% of the things that grab your attention, you can choose your battles, visualize the future and define strategies. Otherwise, the battles, and ultimately other people’s priorities, will choose you.

It is in the moments of greatest distraction and anxiety that capturing becomes the indispensable tool that puts you back in control of things.

Even if you have a lot of things to do, you will feel a great relief when all those things are on the table. It’s like having all the pieces you need to make a puzzle. The puzzle may be complicated and take time to do, but all the pieces are there. You can see them.

Managing interruptions

In addition to providing clarity and reducing stress, the habit of capturing is a great help in dealing with interruptions, probably the biggest enemy of productivity.

Capturing consists of stopping what you are doing for a few seconds when you are assaulted by a thought not related to the task you are carrying out, writing that thought down somewhere “safe” without thinking about anything else, and immediately continuing with what you were doing. As you can see, the habit of capturing is in itself a way of managing interruptions, and minimizing their influence.

In a world plagued by interruptions, having the ability to concentrate on something for as long as you need to is key to peak performance. When you have established the habit of capturing and have the necessary tools at your disposal, it is much easier to ignore the “noise” that bothers everyone.

This applies to all kinds of interruptions, even that colleague who walks into your office asking you for something. Writing down the request somewhere and politely dismissing your colleague with “I’ll let you know when I get to it” can just take a few seconds. Remember that it’s only productive to do a task as it comes up if, coincidentally, it’s the most important thing to do at that moment.

Note taking

Do you take notes related to the task you are doing, in a notebook or note app? I do. I use a notebook for temporary and ephemeral notes, and Obsidian for notes I need to keep and reuse in the future.

This type of notes are of tremendous value, especially when it is a task of a certain complexity and you have to leave it unfinished (because an unforeseen event came up, because you have to attend a meeting, or because you are tired of working today). They are also invaluable when, several months later, when you no longer remember anything at all, you have to make some modifications related to that task.

Taking these types of notes is, of course, another way to capture. They are references and actions that will help you continue with the project and make future modifications or extensions.

Taking notes is helpful not only when you are working on something. When you are in a meeting or when you are on the phone it is a very effective way to capture ideas, action items and reference material which should not slip away.

Having all that information captured gives you the peace of mind of knowing that later, when appropriate, you will process, organize and carry out the necessary actions.

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