Capturing is the "IN" part of the GTD methodology. It's how all of the external sources of information get funneled into a single entry point so they can be processed. Unlike later stages, capturing can (and should) take place at any time.

For collecting to be useful, it has to be part of a system where all of the inputs are processed (step 2 of GTD). I find it works best when I know I've set aside time to go through everything. Otherwise it's just filling up my in tray for no good reason.

An initial capture should be carried out before starting to use GTD on a regular basis. This involves capturing anything that is not currently in the system.

Which is everything.

Initial capture

This part was really tough for me. I have a bad habit of keeping notes on my desk and I didn't want to lose them. Even though I knew they would be going into a single place put me off collecting everything for a while.

Seeing the pile grow made things even worse. Each new item made it look like an insurmountable mountain of work that would never be processed.

Here are a few things I collected during this stage:

  • Sealed bills that I paid online and never opened
  • Letters
  • Receipts I saved for when I file taxes
  • Greetings cards
  • Notebooks
  • Paper folders (some empty, some not)
  • USB sticks
  • Tickets and programs from events
  • Notes for whatever I was working on at the time. Some were from projects I finished months ago. Most of what I collected fell into this category, and ranged from full sheets of paper to post-it notes.
  • Stuff that could go straight in the trash (empty envelopes, grocery store receipts from 2016 etc.)

I didn't count everything so it's hard to say just how much there was, but it ended up being a pretty large pile. I'd estimate there were over 1,000 individual items (pieces of paper, notecards etc) to process. Some of those items also have multiple items written on them.

That's not even including my email inbox, which currently sits at around 3,000 emails.

Performing a "mind sweep" is also part of the collection phase. The idea is to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper so that they can be processed. The GTD website has a list of things to read through to see if they spark any ideas.

Due to the amount of stuff I'd already collected, I decided to perform a mind sweep after the initial processing stage. Sitting down for an hour to think about everything I have to do didn't sound too appealing when there was already a huge stack of things to go through.

With collection done, it's onto step 2: processing!