Ubiquitous Capture Device, What is Yours?

Those of you who are followers of the Getting Things Done methodology will full understand the importance of the instant collection of your tasks. David Allen, author of the GTD system talks about the Ubiquitous Capture Device, meaning a device that is with you at all times enabling you to use it to capture your thoughts.

I have been doing some thinking recently about the capture devices I use as part of my collecting strategy. I have been practicing GTD for around two years now and I always say that the biggest change and benefit brought to me is the ability to capture items as they enter my head so that I can collect these in my inbox and process them at a later date.


Another GTD term is Open Loops and I have written many posts that cover Open Loops. Just as a refresher, an Open Loop is a task that is not recorded. Each time you think, gosh I must do this, and gosh I must do that and do nothing about it, it creates a little Open Loop in your mind that takes up valuable processing power and causes stress. The empowerment of capturing your thoughts, as you have them is the biggest benefit that I have got out of GTD.

During the past few days I have been thinking about the various types of capture devices that I have used over the past two years and which have worked and which have failed.

There are two main categories of capture devices, the high tech and the low tech. By high tech I mean items such as iPhones, Blackberries, Laptops, and PDAs. Preferably running some task or GTD based software application. The low tech options include a good old pen and paper. The paper can form a notebook, stickies, journal, or daily planner. It really doesn’t matter as long as you can record your thoughts.

When I originally started implementing GTD I, like many others, rushed out and bought a collection of Moleskine’s. This is the techie in me who loves to go out and buy hardware, even when the hardware is a nice notebook. Moleskine’s are in my opinion the nicest notebooks that good money can buy. The quality of the finish and paper is second to none.

I bought the large notebook, small notebook and also some of the small Moleskine Cahier notebooks. I use my large and small notebook for day to day use and meetings. I teamed up the Cahiers with a throw away golf pencil and this made it into my back pocket as my Ubiquitous Capture Device.

This worked to a degree. As the Cahier notebook was an extra, it had to be remembered. It was not fully integrated into my life and there were times when I forgot it, leaving me without my trusty notebook to record tasks. I then ended up with around 6 dog eared Cahier notebooks “hanging around” and not really being productive.

Then, the iPhone and OmniFocus for the iPhone came along. I started to use this as my capture device. My phone is always with me so it ticked the Ubiquitous requirement of the Ubiquitous Capture Device. The problem is that it takes a minimum of 10 seconds to get the phone turned on, OmniFocus load, and be in a position to add the task. Doesn’t sound like a lot but when you have an idea or task in your head that needs recording it sure does feel like a long time.

There are two items that are ubiquitous to me. My phone and my wallet. These pretty much go with me wherever I go. I feel the most important part of selecting a Ubiquitous Capture Device is to get one works and you WILL carry it wherever you go.

David Allen uses a low tech Ubiquitous Capture Device. He uses a wallet that has a built in notebook with tear off pages and an expandable Rotring pen. This works for David Allen and I am sure it would work for us all. I have a really nice wallet that my wife bought me a few years ago and I am not replacing it yet but when I do, this is something I will look into.

OmniFocus Iphone

In summary, my current tool of choice is OmniFocus as my Ubiquitous Capture Device on my iPhone. My phone is always with me so it fits the bill. The benefits of the high tech device is the ability to sync with my desktop OmniFocus so I never lose data but their is a speed trade off. Low tech capturing is much faster but you have to carry it, and also if you lose it, well you have lost it.

I would love to hear from all you about your Ubiquitous Capture Device. Are you low tech or high tech? Do you have any cool tips to share with us all about finding the ultimate Ubiquitous Capture Device?

28 thoughts on “Ubiquitous Capture Device, What is Yours?

  1. Andrew Mason Post author


    I have just got a new Volant, around 1/2 size of a Cahier and looks interesting. Also got tear out pages. Will check the Twist-Erase out, not seen them.

    I will need a separate post covering all the cool pens and pencils!

    Thanks for the comment.

  2. Matt

    Have you thought about using a different app on your iPhone as your UCD? Sort of like writing them in a notebook and then copying to OmniFocus when you get home, but on your iPhone instead of a notebook? I guess you’ve got to weigh up

    10 seconds (per thought) to record on iPhone + 0 seconds to transfer to OmniFocus (at end of day)


    x seconds (per thought) to record on ‘a quicker app’ + y seconds to transfer to OmniFocus (at end of day)

  3. Peter

    In the house I use a whiteboard on the fridge in the kitchen. I just put a spare whiteboard next the my bed so if I have an idea while falling asleep I don’t have to get up to record it. We’ll see how that works.

    Out of the house I use a Moleskine-like-notebook which I keep in my back pocket (and a pen in my front pocket). I also keep my shopping lists in the same book so it’s always with me when I leave the house. I use post-it-tabs to bookmark where the shopping list is and where the inbox is.

    For when I’m driving or just can’t stop to write down a thought, I just signed up with Jott. This service allows me to record a voicemail which they transcribe into text. I have a widget on my iGoogle homepage showing me any jotts. Whenever I’m at the computer and I see a jott, I process it immediately. I’d love for my jotts to go directly into Remember the Milk, which is my task-manager of choice right now, but that costs money.

  4. Rob

    Not having actual links to the items/sites is annoying. All links are back to your own tags!

    Love the content though

  5. Josh Feierman

    I use a Moleskine for day-to-day notes and journaling, but for times when I don’t have that, I tend to shoot myself a quick e-mail on the Crackberry. Like your iPhone, I always have it with me, so it’s always a quick way to jot myself a note. Later I’ll process it into RTM when I go through my inbox. Perhaps some day my company will adopt iPhones over Blackberries!

  6. Austin

    I have tried many but the best so far is an HTC S620. Always have it with me. The front qwerty keyboard is great and it can be used one handed.

  7. Alec Satin

    Hi Andrew,
    I keep a nice collection of unlined 3×5 cards with me all the time. They are perfect for jotting notes, ideas and tasks. They can be run through a Canon Pixma 4300 printer very easily, which allows them to be printed with template forms.
    This system has worked for almost a year now. That’s a record for most of us GTD folks 🙂

    Be well,

  8. Andrew Mason Post author


    Hi Rob, sorry about that. I will try to include some more external links in future posts. I just linked them back to other posts I had written about the content.

    Thanks for your comment.

  9. Andrew Mason Post author


    I have tried apps like Zenbe and also the built in Notes app but the fact that these do not sync takes me longer to process. At least with OmniFocus, once the task is entered, it gets synced to my desktop OmniFocus and it is also backed up on my iDisk. I just wish the 10 seconds was 2!

    Thanks for your comment.

  10. Peter Monbailleu

    I have been working with PersonalBrain for over half a year now and I’m really impressed with its possibilities. I love Mindmapping and like everyone I need a capture device… This software allows you to do both within one program. Even after 6 months, the brain is still quite OK to navigate. (link: http://www.thebrain.com) And of course for meetings I have the unmissable Moleskine…

  11. iPhone

    I used to use a simple text file on my computer. Then I switched to an old fashioned notebook + pencil. I then realised that I am wasting too much paper and things get cluttered with out of date information so I bought a whiteboard.

  12. Max

    I think everybody could take the risk of loosing their Capturing device as long as the weekly/daily review is a habit!

    I use a moleskin too and i try to “sync” it with my hightech System every two days.


  13. Andrew Mason Post author


    That is presuming everybody does the weekly review. From my research, it seems like the weekly review is one part of the GTD system that people struggle with. I know myself I have slipped with this due to time pressure, or what you perceive to be time pressure. I feel another post coming on 🙂

    Thanks for the comment.

  14. Max

    Hey Andrew,
    i think collecting is pointless, if you do not do the weekly review. its one of the most important (and i agree, for most people: the most lacking) part of the the whole methodology.

    Im curious about the next post 😉


  15. Michael Evans

    @Andrew Mason:
    The new Volant is a much better bet than the Cahier. I’ve been using one for a couple of months now and it sits unobtrusively in a back pocket with one of your excellent golf pencils attached.

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  18. cloudrider


    I carry my iPhone around and also have OmniFocus. But I use Notes2Self (cool voice recorder) on iPhone as my Ubiqitous Capture Device. It takes a second to start up and record a note. At the end of each day, I’ll type in all my voice notes into “system” (OmniFocus on a Mac).

    I recommend giving Notes2Self a try, as it has a nice feature of just lifting the iphone to your ear to start recording, and putting the iphone back down to stop recording.

    Of course, if I’m sitting at my computer, I’ll just type it into my “system” on the spot – OmniFocus at home, Tudumo at work.

    Works great.

  19. Jon

    1) Privately I use little pieces of scrap paper stapled together, just as you envision them. I cut them from used 8 1/2 by 11 printer paper. I make them large enough to take notes and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket comfortably (doesn’t get stuck going in and out of the pocket).

    2) Publicly I have 3 little attractive (refillable) notepads in double hinged (at the top) leatherette covers. They are (a rather nice quality) promotional product that I picked up at a trade show. They were provided by Colliers International(a commercial real estate brokerage) and their name is embossed in the cover so it isn’t too visible. I highly recommend stopping by their booth to pick some up. When the pads run out, I staple my above referenced little pieces of scrap paper to the old cardboard from the original pad for refills. This pad is a little to large for my pocket so if I misplaced or forget it (seldom happens), I sneak out my other homemade pads from my shirt pocket.

    3) At my desk, a legal pad, as I re-read this, maybe I’ll start reusing old printer paper (without cutting it). Also, MS OneNote

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  22. jill jackson

    i too use personal brain mind-mapping software. It’s extremely flexible, easy-to-use and has been the best system to help me really implement GTD. and it syncs with google calendar which is fabulous. It’s a laptop app (I don’t know if they have an app for ipad yet) so i carry around a small circa notebook from levenger for notes on the go, which i add to my brain when i get back on my laptop.

  23. Body Pillow

    I have bounced around from one technique to the other over the years, Covey, Daytimer, Walmart Planners, Palm versions and now iphone. Basically it all comes down to whatever works for you and not procrastinating by trying new tools out. I use my iphone and a basic notbook to just write everything else down. Someday I will get more organized but for now it works!
    Thanks for the post, I’ll check out the app

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