Capture and Collect

So here we come to address the first crucial component of any effective system. This will be a fairly short post as the principle is incredibly straightforward.

Capture Everything.

That is the principle. We mentioned in a previous post about having a capture tool. Well this is where it shines.

You’ll have a conversation and a few key tasks will rear their heads. Things like: Buy Thor:Ragnarok on DvD. Plan a trip to Holy Island. Read Your Digital Life 2.0 by Carl Pullein. Clean out the Oven. Add so and so’s feedback to the report. Learn to sail.

The potential list is endless.

Or, ideas will spring to you like: Country Idea for epic fanstasy novel, base it on the Roman Empire. Try adding peanut butter to my porridge. Try a smart looking redesign of the annual report.

This is where your capture tool shines. Capture everything. Indiscriminately. Do not judge at this stage, that comes later and will be addressed in our next post.

If you do not capture everything at the moment it hits your head, you’ll lose so much and forget key tasks.

So get capturing.

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The components of a basic system

So I’m here to talk to you about what you need for a productivity system. But first some principles.

David Allen, in the fantastic book Getting things done says “the head is a great place for having ideas but a bad place for holding them”. That’s the key principle. We cannot expect our brains to manage every aspect of our lives but as a God given gift we can use them to develop an effective system to enable us to keep reasonably on top of all the different stuff we have.

Carl Pullein is very clear on one thing. Productivity means doing the work. You can have the most well organised system in the world and have an absolutely crystal clear idea of everything you need to do. That’s great, but if you don’t do the work, that time is wasted.

The key component of your system is a way of capturing or collecting your tasks, todos, ideas and thoughts. I cannot predict when in my day I will be alerted to something I need to do. It could come in via e-mail, or text or WhatsApp. Someone could grap me at the coffee machine and ask me to do something.  I might even remember something as I’m walking through town or in the shower. In an ideal world, I would be able to note that down in a collection tool that is a part of my system within a couple of minutes.

So you need something. It could be a cheap notebook, or an app on your phone, whatever it is, you need it and it needs to be close at hand pretty much all the time. You’ve got maybe 5 minuts before that task or idea has been pushed out of your head by something else. You need a collection tool.

But what happens to those tasks and ideas once you have collected them. Do they form some random list that you refer to when you decide what you are actually going to do? Well if so, I predict that list will soon become hundreds of items long with things of varying importance and significance, all unrelated, and an absolute mess. It will take you 20 minutes each time you sit down to come up with any kind of valuable idea as to what you should be doing at that time. What a waste!

So you need some way managing your to-do list, of organising it, prioritising it and structuring it so when you do sit down to work, within a few seconds glance you know what you should be doing.

I would say that once each week, you need to go through your list and check how it is planned out and structured and make sure everything is in the right place and then you can map out what you plan to do over the course of the next week.

Over the years, I have used many different approaches to this but at its heart, my system has remained pretty unchanged, at least at the level of core principles.

So the task for today is simple, work out how you are going to collect all those thoughts and tasks. The next post will specifically be about this. Following that we will start to talk about how to plan and structure things.

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On the importance of having a system

Let’s start by saying I disagree with my own title. You have a system, it just might be a very bad one.

By ‘a system’ I mean a way of organising your stuff. By your stuff I literally mean stuff, that’s everything. Broadly it splits into 3 categories. Stuff you need to know, stuff you need to do and stuff you need to keep for records.

Everyone has a system. Maybe you have a diary for your appointments and a filing cabinet for the stuff you need to keep as well as a notebook for all your todo lists. Maybe you have a pile of stuff on your desk, post it notes on your laptop screen to tell you when to be where and what to do. Maybe you scribble todo lists on the back of an envelope and then can’t find them when you need them. But what about those tasks you need to do in 3 months time, or this time next year?  Why waste time writing out the same things on your to-do list, week in week out if it’s something you need to do every week?  Everyone has a system, it just may not be very good or thought through.

Most of us will complain we are so busy, we don’t have time to think or plan how we manage our stuff in any detail. I would argue that if you get it right, and if you invest some time at the outset then you can develop a system that requires little maintenance and could potentially buy you hours each week in less time wasted not knowing where you were supposed to be, what you were supposed to be doing and especially in finding the information you need to do it.

Firstly, a couple of shout outs. I learned a lot of this from Lionel Windsor and his series which can be found here. Then, following Lionel’s advice, I read Dave Allen’s book Getting Things Done. A cracking read and some of the most helpful principles in my system come from there, though I have departed from his methodology on a number of key points. Next, I discovered Carl Pullein and I really like his thinking in this area so I’ve learned a bit from him too.

So, as Dave Allen says, your brain is a great place for having ideas but not for holding them. I find my brain will remind me of things I need to do often enough, but always at the wrong time. It will remind me to get milk whilst I’m on the bus home. It will remind me to send that all important email at 3:17am. Not helpful and just leads to greater stress as I am constantly remembering things when I can do nothing about them.

So you need to have a system. In an ideal world, your system will tell you where you need to be, what you should be doing and what you need to do it, all at a glance. You should also be able to find out any information you have stored in it within a minute and ideally be able to do all this wherever you are. Now, if you have a system like that, and you trust it, you can just ignore those random worries of what you might need to do at some point in the future, or note it down in the system, and then just get on with what you are doing, whatever it is. This ability to focus on what you are doing, without the distraction of worrying you should be doing something else is invaluable.

Is such a system possible to achieve? Yes, it is and the next few posts I’ll go through the basic nuts and bolts of my system.

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What have we lost?


Recently I was at a Christian event.  The bookstall gave me pause for thought. I think we have lost something, something important. It wasn’t a bad bookstall, so this isn’t really a crit of that, it’s more a lament and a call to action. Action for us all and specific action for some.
Half the bookstall was children’s and youth books. This is no bad thing. It is fantastic to be providing resources for our children and for the next generation.
The other half was for adults. Not a single book on doctrine or any specific doctrine. Not one. Books of around 100-150 pages. Max. We have lost something important don’t you think? It was I believe William Wilberforce who said that the key to godly living is to have your affections gripped by love for Jesus and that the key to this was clear doctrine. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have a wealth of short, accessible books on Christian living or even books that briefly tackle complex pastoral issues. Big issues and points of conflict with the world in which we live. These books are important, and they have a real place. But where is the doctrine? And not just short books titled something like ‘A brief introduction to the cross’. Books that barely scratch the surface.
Where are the in-depth books? Books that delve deep into doctrine, books deeply rooted in scripture, books that make you think, books that shape our hearts and our minds and our core beliefs. Where are they? I cannot believe that they have all been written already.
So a call to action. Find books on doctrine. Read them. Don’t be satisfied with a brief introduction. Don’t fear the books that make you think. Don’t fear the books where you have to read and re-read sections again and again just to make sense of them. Find them, read them, keep reading them until you understand. Delve deep into biblical doctrine. Grow. Then your heart will be warmed, then your conviction of God’s love and character will be strengthened. Then your love for Jesus will be strengthened.
And I would call upon the next generation of ministers and theologians to write. My generation. Not just ‘accessible’ books on the latest hot topic of Christian living. But deep, thorough books on the big doctrines. I fear that our generation of evangelicals is losing its clarity on doctrine simply because we don’t think about it or read about it. If this is true of us, then what of the next generation.
I’d also call upon you to fill your bookstalls, not with short accessible books, but books that set the bar high. Books that say ‘yes this will be a time commitment but actually this is important enough to merit that time’.
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Here goes…
50,000 words
175 pages

in 1 month

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Quantum Of Solace

I watched Quantum of Solace today – or i tried to.  It’s the second time and i just find it so hard to watch.  There is very little going on and when something does happen it’s shot so badly that you can’t really work it out.  I want to like it as it is a Bond film but they have just departed from an established formula.  If it isn’t broken – don’t fix it.  I fear this is what they tried to do with this film.

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