How I discovered the three ‘Lands’ of Capture

Compass on a map

Last week I published a visual summary of my capture workflow that shows how various tools and apps make up the ‘ecosystem’ that exists to help me capture ideas, tasks and other useful information.

A few things struck me about the final visual:

  • The apps I have found most useful (Evernote, Nozbe, Pocket) are the ones that operate across multiple platforms
  • Despite a desire to simplify things, I have five separate ‘inbox’ type workflows that act as a point of collection for various artefacts
  • The ‘ecosystem’ of Capture apps has mapped quite neatly into three distinct logical groups (I’m going to call these lands). Each land is characterised by the nature of the information it contains and the technology used to process it.

Why is a Capture system important?

“The beauty of having a well-oiled Capture system is that you can quickly get to the stuff you need to process next, when you need to process it, without having to sift through lots of other stuff first.”

Capture is a cornerstone of the Getting Things Done methodology, though I think it accurately describes a process most of us go through everyday. You can think of it as:

the accumulation of “stuff” (physical or digital) that you want to do something with.

The beauty of having a well-oiled Capture system is that you can quickly get to the stuff you need to process next, when you need to process it, without having to sift through lots of other stuff first.

By having an effective Capture system where all your stuff goes, you eliminate open loops” – uncaptured data rattling around in your brain – freeing up vital brain power needed for the task at hand.

My capture system is not perfect, but it is designed to feed my do/defer/delegate process and is proving quite effective at doing so.

GTD Capture Workflow infographic

Larger Image(via Pinterest)

Land 1: Cloud Land

Cloud Land is a light, fluffy place where the thoughts, ideas and opinions of others hang collectively in the ether like twinkly little stars.

I like to think of of it as a bit like the ‘dream world’ in the animated version of the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), but instead of an enormous butterfly net I have my trusty capture tools (not the most sophisticated of metaphors I know, but I’m sticking with it).

I subscribe to a few cloud-based services to gather this kind of information:

  • Twitter for connecting to like-minded individuals and as a platform for my own views
  • Google Reader for subscribing to other interesting blogs and news feeds
  • Buffer, which allows me schedule the content I want to share to prevent it hitting subscribers in one undigestible lump. This is useful when spending a ‘power hour’ reading and reviewing articles that I’ve previously bookmarked.

I should add that I have other cloud services too (Dropbox and Crashplan to name but two) but I’m focusing on those that aid my capture workflow.

I have deliberately omitted Facebook, having made a conscious decision to wean myself off it and ultimately close my account (not because I think it’s unproductive, but because it has become clogged up with spam and ads).

Land 2: Apple Land

Apple Land is a world of widgets and workflows, full of beauty and wonder. However it is susceptible to becoming cluttered with apps that are either sub-optimal or entirely pointless, requiring a strict discipline to keep the landscape tidy and prevent the core productivity apps from becoming overgrown.

Most importantly Apple Land is where my inboxes live:

  • Nozbe is my personal task manager, storing all tasks, actions, projects etc. It is the heart of my productivity system.
  • Gmail is my email provider and I use its native app to manage my personal inbox. I don’t have a lot of actionable mail outside of work but any that comes in is processed here.
  • Evernote is the workhorse of Apple Land. It acts as an inbox for my scanned documents and for other ‘everyday stuff’ I capture on Evernote for iOS. It also acts as a repository for things that I have processed but wish to keep.
  • Pocket acts as a buffer between my blog feeds and Evernote. Initially this felt redundant (see my earlier post, “What’s the point of pocket?” but I have come to value having an inbox that contains only reading material. When find myself with a spare five minutes I know the Pocket app will have an article ready to read. Buffer integration also comes in handy for sharing great articles quickly and easily on Twitter.

(I have one other inbox, Outlook, but that lives on Dell Island, and we’ll get to that).

Apps like Evernote, Nozbe and Pocket provide dedicated apps for each platform (Mac OS vs iOS) use the cloud to keep everything perfectly synced.

Other services like Buffer offer what is basically a cloud service but give me options to access it from Apple Land (Buffer does this by providing APIs which allow apps like Feeddler, Tweetings and Pocket to send things directly to it).

One particular frustration for me at the moment is Tweetings. I chose Tweetings over Tweetbot because it has Buffer integration. I love the iOS Tweetings app but the Mac version does not have the same functionality (most notably it lacks Buffer integration), which is like having two entirely separate apps.

Contrast this to the recent efforts of Nozbe to provide a single look and feel to its UI across Mac, Mobile and Web – efforts which in my opinion result in a superior user experience (although I still don’t like or use the Nozbe web app).

I’m also using two separate apps to process email – the Gmail browser when I’m using my Macbook (I’ve never bothered with a Mac app as I’m very happy with the Gmail interface) and the native iOS Mail app to access emails on the go.

I do have the Gmail app but haven’t found it any more intuitive than the standard Mail app. I may give it another go in the spirit of getting to “one app” for email.

Paper land

Paper land is a dark, prehistoric place where large sheets of uncompromising A4 shroud the landscape in darkness. Large mountains of cross-cut shredding jut into the clouds and constant torrents of junk mail, credit card statements and bills rain down on the grey plains.

Ok, maybe that’s overdoing a bit but this is essentially the part of my workflow that deals with ‘stuff I haven’t managed to digitise yet.’

The shining white knight of Paper Land is my Doxie Go *, which tirelessly chews up all my paperwork and then sends it to the Doxie app (see my Doxie Workflow post) for processing before I send it to its final destination – Evernote.

I don’t have an official ‘inbox’ for paper (i.e. mail). I do a basic keep or destroy check on incoming mail (there’s no point scanning junk mail) but all the sophisticated processing happens once it’s in Doxie.

Inbound paper is the area of my workflow that I feel could do with most improvement and I’ll continue to work on it both by trying the reduce the inflow (by opting out where possible) and by processing it more effectively.

One glaring discrepancy in my “I’m going paperless” philosophy is the paperwork I create myself in the form of sketchnotes. It’s my amibition to move to a fully digital solution like an iPad Mini or Boogie Board Rip * but funds are low in the Cutlery household so that will have to wait…

Dell Island

If there’s one place sadder than Paper Land, it’s Dell Island. A hostile place, littered with razor wire, “Keep Out” signs and other deterrents, none of the natives speak English and even if they did, probably wouldn’t use it to say anything pleasant.

My work laptop lives on Dell Island and it’s a sorry affair. As a small cog in a huge corporate wheel I have no opportunity to integrate my work processes with my personal ones, so Outlook by default plays the most significant part in managing my work life (see Write Better Email).


Intuitively you’d expect someone who is highly productive to have streamlined their inboxes, possibly even down to one. Five inboxes may seem chaotic, but I hope the infographic shows that there’s a certain structure to my workflow that gives each inbox a clear, delineated purpose.

My key observations to organising your capture system are:

  • Be clear about the purpose of every inbox – is it distinct? Is it necessary?
  • Select applications that are multi-platform and that play well with each other
  • Review your workflow periodically and look for opportunities to improve it

What do you think? Work of art, or a load of Jackson Pollocks? Let me know!

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