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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.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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