A penny for your thoughts

It’s a sun-filled summer afternoon and you’re strolling happily down the street when a flash of light catches your eye from pavement ahead. You instinctively tell yourself it’s probably just a bottle top but your eyes linger, widen and then sparkle with delight. Yes, it’s a pound coin.

So what do you do?

  1. Bend down and pick it up. Ker-ching!
  2. Leave it. After all, you can pick it up later.
  3. Ignore it and walk on by.

Although you might disguise your urban scavenging as shoelace-tying (just in case you realise at the last moment that it’s a laundry token and have to abort), you’re probably going to pick it up, aren’t you? We all would. And why not? It’s right there. Free money. Ker-ching!

But what’s true for cash money should be true for things that produce cash money, right? So why don’t we collect all our valuable ideas and shiny thoughts in the same way?

Like coins in the street, they present themselves at random, unexpected moments and they have value – sometimes small (“must remember to get stamps…”), sometimes big (“Yes! That’s what I’ll say in the board meeting!”).

Yet all too often our useful ideas and insights are crowded out by the next distraction and we let it happen without a struggle, assuming they’ll still be there later. Of course, it’s possible they might, just like it’s possible that the glimmering pound coin might still be waiting there on the pavement when you pass by again tomorrow, but don’t bet on it.

This is why one of the fundamental practices of the GTD® (Getting Things Done) personal productivity methodology is having a robust and comprehensive system for capturing thoughts and ideas wherever they occur.

When you’re faced with city streets littered with coins of the realm, capture doesn’t present a problem. Unless you’re that naked rambler bloke – and welcome to LinkedIn if you are – then you’ll have pockets. We all have them so coin collection is straightforward, but capturing all the other stuff in our lives is more complicated.

For this reason, a key part of making this capture system as effective as it can be is to consider how you’ll capture things based upon your own habits and haunts, so that you’re always ready when the moment strikes.

I thought I’d share an example of this kind of customisation that works really well for me. It might seem a little unusual on the face of it, but this is what customisation is about – designing around your own customs.

A few days a week I make time for some laps up and down Manchester’s Olympic pool. As well as being a rearguard action against middle-aged spread, it also seems to prompt all manner of potentially useful thoughts to float to the surface of my consciousness as I crawl through the chlorine.

Frustratingly, they often also used to drift away until I realised that the simple-but-powerful GTD principle of always being ready for capture could apply in the pool just as much as in the other places I spend significant chunks of my day, such as home or work.

Deciding to experiment with this realisation, after a bit of research I bought a scuba diver’s underwater note-taking slate to park at the end of the pool to instantly ensure that I’m never more than 50 metres away from grabbing the moments of insight and innovation that the exercise often encourages.

And it works. Idea for the next blog? Insight to unblock a project? Thing that needs buying for tea tonight? Splash, splash, scribble, scribble, done… and back to enjoying being present to the joy of moving through the water.

The point here is that one of the strengths of GTD is its flexibility. There is no mandated ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to implementation. If you’re observing the principles – ubiquitous capture in this case – then you’re encouraged to develop and refine your practice in ways that work well for you, watery or not.

If you’re interested to find out more about GTD, check out the GTD Fundamentals course taking place this October in Manchester.