Saturday 29 May 2010

Capture and Focus: I Don't Have to Do Everything RIght Now

On my business trip last week, I listened to an older David Allen podcast on the Best Practices of Collect. I download these podcasts to my iPod so I can listen to them on airplane rides. I seem to hear something new each time I review them.

What struck me this time around is the impact that having a good collection system has on your ability to focus. David was describing his own capture tools, such as a tray of loose sheets of paper on his desk. When he gets an idea in the middle of doing something, he writes it down and throws the paper into his Inbox tray. Then he can let go of it, because he knows it's in his system and he will see it again the next time he processes his Inbox.

A lot of what I do, such as software installs or courseware development, requires intense focus. Interruptions blast my concentration to pieces, and it takes time to put those pieces back together again so I can make sure I'm not forgetting a step (installs) or that I'm keeping the big picture in mind as I write (courseware).  Although some interruptions demand immediate attention (such as an instant message from my manager) many more of them really don't need to be acted on in the moment.

So the past few days, I've been trying to ask myself, "Do I need to do this now?" Even if it will take less than two minutes to do, if it will interrupt something and cause a context shift, I capture it and keep working. I don't need to do everything Right Now for fear of losing it, if I can capture it for later processing.

Another tip: all three speakers in the podcast were insistent that they captured thoughts on a notePAD, not a noteBOOK.  You have to be able to tear out the individual sheets and put them into your Inbox for later processing.  It's too hard to go back through a whole notebook to hunt for action items. With one item per sheet, it's easy. They recommended half-size legal pads so they didn't waste a whole 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper for each idea.

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