Capture everything, or: Are you “Getting Things Done”?

Of course you are getting things done – like most of us tech writers… But do you apply the David Allen’s GTD method from his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (GTD)? (Hence the quotes into the title…)

Over the years, I’ve found a few principles from Allen’s method especially valuable for tech writers, whether you are a manager or not. They can also be found in other productivity contexts. I’m describing them as parts of GTD, because it’s a well-known method that explains its principles well – even if the implementation can be cumbersome. But that’s what Zen to Done is for… 🙂

Today, I discuss my #1 GTD Principle for Tech Writers:

Universal capture

The idea of universal capture (aka ubiquitous capture), as I understand it, is this: You’re most productive when you concentrate on the task at hand. You don’t waste “brain cycles” remembering other task. To free your mind from all this remembering, you dump everything into a consistent, trusted system – your universal capture. I find this blatantly obvious – and difficult to do well and reliably.

The problem

As I update documentation, new features need to be described in release notes, one or several manuals and the online help. At the same time, the occasional gap or error needs to be fixed in manuals and/or online help. Due to time and system constraints, I cannot address each issue in all formats as soon as it pops up.

So I need a way to capture any and all issues reliably, so I can forget about them until it’s time to address them. At first, I tried to use my inbox by sorting issues into one sub-folder per format. This approach had several problems:

  • Some issues needed to be addressed in more than one format or more than one manual.
  • Some issues were thrown up in phone calls or when colleagues stopped by with a manual in their hand.

My solution

I’m now using a personal wiki in our intranet which is, for transparency reasons, open for everyone to see and edit. This page is quick and easy to access and edit. It makes few demands on structure and allows me to be as brief or as elabrate as I can be at the “capturing moment.”

Each deliverable has a section of its own, so I can have the same entry in several sections if necessary. When it’s time to update a deliverable, I know I’ll have all issues captured in my wiki list. As I work on it, I strike through each addressed issue. Around the publication date, I condense all issues into a summary of major updates.

More tips and tricks

Leo Babauta (creator of Zen to Done) shares a few general insights about how ubiquitous capture works and when it doesn’t.

Your turn

Do you use universal capture? Or another method of GTD? Do you find it useful? What tools do you use? Please feel free to comment!