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Provide context for better ubiquitous capture

Although the first priority in ubiquitous capture is getting it down, the red-headed stepchild trailing in at number two is providing context. And I don't mean the GTD kind of contexts, but the kind of context that minimally explains what this information means, where and when you collected it, why it matters, or anything else that will help you find a meaningful place for it in your life later on.

Example? Sure. Here's one from my real and recent world. Index card with one word on it:


Okay, there you go! "Once." Good night, everybody!

Just a tiny bit more information would have made that note a lot more useful to me. How about:

- movie KK likes
- Irish band "The Frames"
- DVD -> 12/18

Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Now I know that this is that movie my friend Kristine likes with music from that band she told me about. Without that bit of context, the word "Once" will mean nothing to me later on.

Think you're immune to the need for this kind of frippery? Try this handy home test.

Ever find a scrap of paper in your life that looked something like this?


Ah, the classic 10 digit problem.

While a nutritious breakfast and a sound public school education can help me to deduce that this is very likely a phone number, the paucity of contextual data on whose number it is or why I wrote it down leaves me with a problem. It also suggests that my current system for capturing information ubiquitously is either incomplete or badly implemented. And, I have about 30 years of 10-digit scraps to prove it.

You don't need to go nuts with extra data, but just remember: you may really need this information later on to take some kind of action or just to decide whether and where it fits in your world.

If it's worth capturing, it's worth capturing well, so take the extra couple seconds to remind yourself what the hell you were thinking about.

jkenton's picture

Being nice to FUTURE you

I read this post and saw some parallels with my own situation. I'm often overwhelmed, and trying with all my might to stay afloat, as it were. So, sometimes I cut corners, fail to give myself tips on how to restart if I get interrupted, and the like.

I used to think I was giving my future self all kinds of credit to be able to figure things out, or remember crucial details.

Now, I'm realizing that my PRESENT self is actually sometimes giving my FUTURE self the middle finger. By not stacking the deck and giving my future self the chance to succeed, I'm undermining myself. If I have to spend a lot of time reverse engineering my work to a specific point, I've just given away time that will never come back. And frankly, that's f'ed up.

So, now I write lots of little notes on projects with momentary thoughts and tips for making sense of the work that has been done; generally being nice to my future self.

It helps.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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