43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

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.

lyndyn's picture

Re: Provide context for better ubiquitous capture

I laughed out loud at this post, because it's just so me. Glad to see I'm not the only one. I've really been trying to work on this over the past six months or so, and mostly succeeded, though I still find the odd little scribbled messages from time to time.

I'm a collection manager in a public library, so I take a lot of phone calls from both patrons and vendors. When I take an incoming call, I now write down the caller's name immediately, instantly, before continuing with the conversation. If I resolve all issues on the phone, I may have a list of eighteen contextless names to throw away at the end of the day - but if I don't, I know I won't end up with three random vendor phone numbers, "call George" (why?), "renew Jane's books" (which Jane?) and three titles that maybe someone just suggested I review, but might have actually been specific requests by persons now lost to the mists of memory.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »