Getting Things Done – the book – part 5

… starting from the point where the story stopped.

Capturing – the first step in more detail

When I coach a client through this process, the capture phase usually takes between one and six hours, though it did take an entire twenty hours with one person.David Allen

A full-blown collection should include everything at work and everywhere else. At first, I thought it was only my To-Dos or projects; I didn’t realize this includes physical and digital stuff and thus involves going through every storage area, including your computers, and every nook and cranny in every location. Just going through my To-Dos was already daunting, but going through my computers is becoming a Sisyphean task. As for all my belongings, should I say that I keep everything I have ever owned from the colored pencils and drawings from Kindergarten to empty wrapping and boxes1 from my last purchased item?

Be assured that if you give yourself at least a couple of hours to tackle this part, you can grab the major portion of things outstanding.
“No way! Not even in my wildest dreams.”

Fortunately, David Allen has a trick: you can even capture the rest by creating relevant placeholding notes (e.g. deal with my childhood Crayola, go through my MacGyver box1, etc.). He also tones his instructions down: In the real world, you probably won’t be able to keep your stuff 100 percent collected all the time.

Physical gathering

The first activity is to search your physical environment for anything that doesn’t permanently belong where it is, the way it is, and put it into your in-tray.David Allen

Collect it all.

“I will need a HUGE in-tray. In addition to my stuff here at home, I still have those – enough to fill two-three rooms – in my parent’s place.”

Issues About Capturing

There is a section in the book that is answering some of my questions.

What If an Item Is Too Big to Go in the In-Tray?
If you can’t physically put something in the in-tray, then write a note on a piece of letter-size plain paper to represent it.

What If the Pile Is Too Big to Fit into the In-Tray?
Just create stacks around the in-tray, and maybe even on the floor below it.

What About Things That Are Already on Lists and in Organizers?
Unless you’re thoroughly familiar with this workflow-processing model and have implemented it previously, I recommend that you treat those lists as items still to be processed, like everything else in ‘in.’

Now, there are a few things that can remain where they are, the way they are, with no action tied to them:

  • Supplies
  • Reference Material
  • Decoration
  • Equipment

“Do my Crayolas qualify as stationery? And what about my kindergarten drawings? Are they considered artwork?”
Consider whether your collectible and nostalgia items are still meaningful to you.

Everything else goes into “in.”

One word of caution, though. You should not let yourself get caught running down a rabbit trail cleaning up some piece of your work and then not be able to get through the whole action-management implementation process.

Mental gathering

I recommend that you write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention, on a separate sheet of paper. You could make one long list on a pad, or in some digital application, but given how you will later be processing each item individually, it’s actually more effective on separate sheets.David Allen

The author estimates It will probably take you between twenty minutes and an hour to clear your head onto separate notes, after you’ve gathered everything else. Once again, he has no idea how crazy2 I am. Doing a mind sweep – in my case – will require more than a half-inch stack of plain paper for [my] notes. Anyway, to help in the process, there is an Incompletion Triggers list in the book. This can help you with either your Professional or Personal stuff indeed.


If your head is empty of everything, personally and professionally, then your in-tray is probably quite full and likely spilling over.David Allen

To be continued…


1 I am not talking about original packaging for collectors, but just the empty boxes – small or big – of anything I still have. If an item is not used, I put it back in its box for storage. If an item is broken, I don’t trash it either, but try to fix it instead. If I cannot, I dismantle it to reuse any piece I can use again – even in a roundabout way (or MacGyver way as I like to say). In other words, every object (or parts) – including their original boxes – has many lives before being discarded (i.e. put in the appropriate recycle bin)! Thank goodness, I don’t buy things often. ^
2 I am not referring to hoarding disorder, here. Beyond my real job, I have my to-be professional podcasting endeavor (if only this blog for now), and myriads of activities from self-improvement (e.g. improving my English, learning PHP language, how to use my smartphone, etc.) to quality of life (e.g. photography, books, cooking, etc.). ^

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