Self-management: Capture

Date 2020-06-07

This is the third post in a series on self-management. It introduces the capture mechanism and Intray as a tool for capturing.

Why capture

Capturing ensures that all the stuff that you have allowed into your life is funneled through your self management system, instead of existing as vague external sources of stress. It is about taking ultimate responsibility for your life.

As an example, you probably have a flashlight with dead batteries somewhere in your house. As long as you have not captured this, it will subconsciously be a stress in your life. Then, when you are in a situation where you need a flashlight, you will blame yourself for never dealing with this situation earlier. Even worse: You will likely have started avoiding the place where this flashlight is stored because it is a reminder of this stress.

Instead, what you should have done is capture this piece of input "Oh, it looks like the batteries in my flashlight are dead." as soon as you noticed. Then you would have entrusted your near-future self to deal with it somehow. That does not mean that you need to solve this issue immediately. It just means that you will take responsibility for the issue.

In order to get into the habit of capturing 'stuff' that comes at you in your life, you need to also be able to trust that you will give each piece of input the appropriate amount of attention. This will be the next step in the process, and will be discussed in future blog posts. For now, focus on sealing the leaks of 'stuff' in your life.

What to capture

The capturing piece of the self-management workflow that I describe in this content involves looking at all the channels in your life that produce stuff. Stuff is any input that you have allowed into your life that is now your responsibility as a result.

These channels most certainly includes at least the following:

  • Ideas in your head
  • Email
  • Post in your letterbox
  • Physical 'stuff' that ends up in your life

At work you probably have people telling you what to do, meetings with action items that you should take on, and maybe also clients that give you tasks. All of these should be captured.

As an engineer you most likely also use a tracking system like "Jira" and/or issue trackers like the ones on GitHub or GitLab for each of your projects. These are to be treated as another source of 'stuff' and not a part of your personal self-management system and captured accordingly.

Normal personal life also throws stuff at you. Some level of minimalism can help reduce the amount of stuff that comes at you, but having a good strategy to deal with stuff in your life solves the problem on a more fundamental level.

Where to capture

The fewer inboxes you have in your life, the better the capturing will work. One inbox would be ideal, but life usually just is not that simple. I recommend the following, and no more:

  • Intray, for digital capturing
  • A physical inbox, about A4-A3 size, for physical capturing (including paper letters)
  • An email inbox, for email
  • Instant messaging

How to capture

These are the rules for a good capture system:

  • It must be frictionless to capture an item. The faster, the fewer buttons, the less maintenance, the better. You should be able to capture at the speed of thought.

  • When you take an item out of your system to process, you must never put it back. You can use a FIFO or a LIFO approach, it does not matter because:

  • Your inboxes must all be empty about once a day and you must work toward inbox-zero whenever possible.

  • You do not separate work from your personal life. Your brain makes no such distinction.

Why Intray

Intray was specifically designed to be the perfect tool for capturing in the self-management workflow.

  • Intray is optimised to make adding items as frictionless as possible. The number of clicks and/or button presses necessary to start entering text has been dilligently minimised.

  • Intray does not allow you to list all items in your intray, but rather only allows you to see one item at a time. This enforces the rule that you must never put an item from your intray back into your intray.

  • Intray synchronises across devices: your phone, your computer and the web interface.

  • Intray does not use any advertisements, or otherwise invasive technology. This is to keep the experience lean, frictionless and private.

  • All Intray software is entirely open-source and can be self-hosted.

  • Special care has been taken to ensure that Intray works without an internet connection wherever possible.

  • For power users: Everything about Intray is accessible from a CLI and an API should you wish to make your own automation.

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