Have you ever put something on your front door so that you won’t forget to take it somewhere the next day? Surely, by doing that you forgot about it, stopped worrying, and went on with your day as if nothing had happened.
Your brain is not designed to store worries. On the contrary, it desperately needs to “close” the loops it has open. Leaving an object on your doorstep so that you don’t forget it is a way of closing it.
Unfinished business gets your brain’s attention until you have a clear idea of what you are going to do with it. That’s when you get that sense of completeness that allows you to stop worrying ( Zeigarnik effect).
Unload your mind
That is the main purpose of capturing unfinished business: to achieve closure and stop thinking about it.
Thus, capturing is a synonym for unloading the mind. It consists of placing potentially significant matters that require your attention enough to require a decision or an action, somewhere that gives you peace of mind.
This is the first step to effectively manage your issues: to stop storing them in your head. It’s actually very simple: when you have an issue on your mind, capture it. How? Write it down on a piece of paper, in a notebook, on your cell phone, in an app… Anywhere you know you’re going to look at it regularly. If you write it down on a piece of paper or on a napkin, you will have to deposit it later in a safe place.
The idea is simple, it’s about getting things out of your head and putting them in a trusted place, in order to deal with them later.
This way you will be able to deal with things whenever you decide, when you consider that you have the best circumstances to do so, and not when the universe puts them in front of you.
Having your own capture system will help you to correctly establish the habit of capturing everything that comes into your mind.
Every capture system is based on an inbox. The inbox is not a capture tool itself, but the physical or digital container in which you will deposit your unfinished business.
For your brain to trust your inboxes, they need to be in the right place; it should be easy to put things in them so you can retrieve them later. Inboxes can be physical and digital. Most people need at least three inboxes; one for home, one for the workplace and one for when they are on the move. Ideally, the number of inboxes should be kept to a minimum so it doesn’t complicate the further processing of items.
In addition, you can ask your co-workers and family that when they need you to take a look at something, to deposit it in your inbox. This will make them aware that you value your time and personal organization, while ensuring that you won’t forget their issues.
When you get your hands on an issue in the form of a physical object, you will put it directly in the inbox. If the object is very large or cannot be moved, you can write the description on a sheet of paper and add it to the inbox. When immaterial matters arise that live only in thought (such as conversations, ideas, tasks, etc.), you should give them physical form with a capture tool and put them in the inbox.
You need to choose the capture tools that best suit your lifestyle. A notebook and pen in your backpack, an app on your cell phone to make lists, a voice recorder, etc. If you set up a proper structure of inboxes and capture tools, and use it to store everything that enters your life, your brain will eventually trust it and your mind will finally free itself from incomplete loops.
You will have conquered the first step in achieving full control of your commitments.
Capture system = Inboxes + Capture tools
The initial capture
If you are just starting to use the GTD methodology ( Getting Things Done), you probably do not have a complete inventory of all the pending issues in your life.
Getting that inventory takes effort and time, but once you’ve completed it and all your stuff is properly organized, you’ll just have to keep capturing new things as they come in.
To collect all pending issues, you should look for unfinished items in three different domains: physical, digital and mental.
It consists of going through the physical spaces that make up your regular life (office, closets, drawers, bedrooms, car, etc.) capturing anything that needs some kind of action. You don’t have to do anything with what you find, just deposit it in your inbox, or note it in a virtual inbox if moving the object is not possible or convenient.
Getting all of your physical spaces up to date for the first time can be exhausting. If you find that your inbox ends up completely full, you may be better off doing this process in several stages; one day you check the office, another day your home office, and so on.
Depending on the nature of your daily activity, finding unfinished business in the digital environment can be simple or the opposite. Here the difficulty lies in the fact that the issues may be hidden and scattered across different disks, folders, applications and cloud file systems.
The process is the same. Digging in every place and identifying everything that requires some action, even if it is to throw it away. Normally, the most appropriate tool to capture digital issues is usually also digital. You can use any notes or list application to write down all the pending issues.
Your brain is probably the most complicated area to inspect, and also the most important. To do a mind sweep you will need to reserve a space of time and place where you can be with some tranquility, without distractions.
Start by noticing the things that have your attention right now and write them down.
Once you have captured the active thoughts, it is time to dig deeper into your brain. In order to do this it’s very helpful to have a special list of triggers handy, whose mission is to help you think about very specific topics. The list of incompletion triggers will encourage you to think about things that are not often obvious.
When you finish the initial capture you may feel overwhelmed by so many things to do, or relieved to have everything you have to do cleared up. In any case, you have to think that all of this was already in your life. Now you are simply aware of it.
If you use FacileThings to organize your personal and professional life, you have a built-in wizard to do a mind sweep whenever you need it, and it is dumped directly into your digital inbox. The list of triggers is configurable, so you can include in it elements that help you complete a physical and digital sweep as well. You also have capture tools that you can use with your browser, email, mobile and calendar applications.
The next step will be to clarify everything you have captured. We’ll talk about that later.