Component / Fundamental #1 — Capturing v2

In an earlier post, I talked about the fact that there are certain key components that need to be included in an effective time management system.

Component #1 is that of “Capturing”.


To understand Capturing, it’s best to slow down a single process that occurs hundreds of times in the day of an average profession.

The process starts with the thought “I need to do something” that could be prompted by a conversation, a book being read, a request — anything that triggers a thought that something needs to be done at some point in the future.

In the 2Time Management System we call this a “time demand”.

Once the original thought appears,- we do something to store the time demand, so that it can be accessed later. The most common storage device used is our own personal memory. Another storage device might be a Post-It note. Yet another might be a notebook.

At some point after the moment we store the time demand, we might convert it into an entry in our calendar, or put it on a list, or just act on it immediately.

Capturing is the process of storing the time demand for later use. Some common examples include:

  • an email to reply to that we keep in our in-box
  • a request to call our sister on her birthday that we hope to remember
  • a phone number given to us to put in our diary that we write on a slip of paper
  • an appointment next week Thursday to check the status on a cheque, that we call to ask our secretary to schedule

A key understanding of recent research is that our memories do a very poor job of Capturing. Some research has shown that we can be counted on the remember only 7 +/-2 items reliably, on average. As adults get older, our ability to remember only becomes more impaired. Any effective time management system must help a user to reliably capture time demands, without allowing them to be lost. As technology has expanded, the number of incoming items has only increased, and the number of sources of time demands has also increased. For example, the thought that something needs to be done can originate from:

  • a conversation
  • individual brainstorming
  • daydreaming
  • reading
  • bills
  • voice-mail
  • pagers or beepers
  • email
  • text messages
  • instant messages

The last three examples did not even exist for most professionals as recently as 1975. With technology has come a rapid increase in the number of ways in which new demands on our time enter our consciousness. What is likely is that in 5 years time there will be at least 5 new channels of new demands, only increasing the burden on our already overloaded time management systems.

To cope with all the different channels we need a set of principles with which to define the primary component of “Capturing”.

Capturing is best enabled when:

  • the number of capture points is kept to a minimum, by following it up quickly with another component: “Emptying“.
  • the number of items in each point is kept to a minimum.
  • our memory is only used as a capture point as a last resort, when no other channels are available.
  • at least one capture point is portable.

Here are the practices that correspond to different levels of mastery in the discipline of Capturing:

  • A Novice or White Belt relies on their memory for most, if not all, time demands. The worst novices refuse to write anything down, and continue this practice even when the number of time demands increases.
  • A Yellow Belt relies on a mix of memory and available scraps of paper
  • An Orange Belt hardly relies on paper and uses mostly whatever available paper they can find to write on.
  • A Green Belt always carries a single “device” for capturing down new demands as they arise, never using memory or scraps of paper unless the situation prevents it. The device might be a paper pad, a PDA, or a digital voice recorder, for example. For Green Belts, virtually nothing ever falls through the cracks. They are able to incorporate new channels of information, and increasing time demands, when others simply become overwhelmed. They are also able to upgrade their capturing practices when they become obsolete using new technology.