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The Art of Capture

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

[Update: Our assessment and revision of Capture has been added to the end of this post.]

Congratulations to the team on a very successful first meeting! We had 18 of our 20 members in attendance and discussed our first SHOC topic of the year: Capture.

Before we get into discussing the Capture methods we’ve produced and will be evaluating over the next two weeks, I think a little background information on our team is appropriate.

We are a group of 20 freshman with interests all across the board and majors ranging from Undeclared to Mathematics, Economics to Literature, and Government to International Relations. We attend Claremont McKenna College, a young liberal arts school in sunny California. CMC maintains an admission rate that makes high school seniors cringe, sits on over a dozen Princeton Review Top-20 Lists, and produces graduates who have the highest starting salaries of any liberal arts college in the United States. By nature of getting here, we are all competitive, but I think if you met any of us on the street you would find us likeable and down-to-earth people. Our mission is to forge an innovative approach to higher education and help our peers at CMC and other institutions to do the same. Now on to the good stuff!

The Goal

In the words of Cal Newport, the goal for this meeting was to create “a trusted system in which all of your stuff is captured and regularly reviewed.” Such a system will be the cornerstone for the efficient and effective student life that we plan to construct.The Terms

To capture and control “stuff,” we first need to define it. The Oxford American Dictionary says “stuff” is “matter, material, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind that are being referred to, indicated, or implied.” That’s lovely, but for our purposes we are going to define “stuff” as everything that we need to do or remember in our day-to-day lives. For example, “do calc homework,” “talk to Prof. Whatshername,” “set-up doctors appointment for Monday,” “get birthday card for mom,” and “go to the insane Mudd party this weekend” are all instances of “stuff.” I believe “Stuff” can be broken down into three distinct categories: tasks, engagements, and events. A task is “a piece of work to be done” (OAD). Thus, tasks include homework assignments, “to-do” items, and other things that require action on your part. An engagement is “an arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time” (OAD). Thus, engagements include your classes, club meetings, and other appointments which require your presence. In essence, engagements are just tasks which require you to attend something at a specific time. For example, if an engagement was a task its subject line would read “attend economics class at 1:00pm” or “attend doctors appointment at 3:00pm.”  You DO tasks. You ATTEND engagements. An event is “a thing that happens” (OAD). Events include friends’ birthdays, parties you haven’t decided whether or not to attend, and other things happening on campus which occur at definitive times but require no action. Events are purely informational. If you decide to send your friend a birthday card, that becomes a task. If you decide to attend that party you were unsure of, that becomes an engagement.

For all us visual learners, I’ve made a simple table illustrating the differences between different types of stuff.

*”Stuff” that falls into this box, because it has an indefinite time and requires no action, should be morphed into a task by creating a required action (e.g. “I think I have a club meeting sometime this week” becomes “Email club president to check if there is a meeting”).

An easy way to remember the terminology discussed here is SITEE (pronounced “city”). Stuff Is Tasks, Engagements, and Events.

The System

At our first meeting, we created a two-stage system for capturing our “stuff.” Based largely on our personal propensity to employ technology (versus good ol’ fashioned paper), we developed different methods of using this system.

Stage 1 (24 hours)

  • Immediately record any “stuff” that comes to mind in a notebook of some kind. Ensure that you always have this notebook and a writing utensil so that you can put your “stuff” on paper when you think of it and then purge it from your mind.

Stage 2 (5 minutes)

  • Once a day, at a specified point in time (e.g. 9:00am, right after waking up) relocate all the tasks collected in the notebook (during the past 24 hours) to a master task list (MTL) and all the engagements and events collected to a calendar, then remove everything from your notebook (cross the “stuff” out or tear out the page). Not only does this instill a fresh feeling, it serves the important purpose of reducing redundancy and errors between the notebook and MTL/calendar. Then, review your updated calendar and MTL.

This three step system lends itself to an easy name: “The Triple-R System.”

Every member of SHOC@CMC will be using the Triple-R system over the next two weeks. However, each member of the group was given personal freedom in choosing the mediums that they would use as their notebook, MTL, and calendar. The two most common sets of chosen mediums were the following.

Method 1

  • Notebook: pocket notebook
  • MTL/Calendar: Desk Calendar/To-Do List

Method 2

  • Notebook: iPhone/iPod Touch Notes App or Blackberry Notes App
  • MTL/Calendar: iCal, Blackberry Tasks & Calendar Apps, or Google Tasks & Calendar


The SITEE maxim:

  • Stuff ITasks, Engagements, and Events

The Triple-R Capture System:

  • Record
  • Relocate
  • Review

Choose one of the these methods and try the system out yourself! If you have any comments or questions on the system, methods, or terms please comment on this post and the SHOC@CMC Team will respond within the week!


Capture in Review

Yesterday (2/5/10) we evaluated the Capture system (above) which we had devised at our last meeting. The overwhelming response to our system was very positive and the group agreed that the system really does help alleviate stress that many didn’t even realizing they were creating in the first place (myself included). However, there is always room for improvement and here are some suggestions on how to make the system even better:

  • Make it fit your schedule. Place the “relocate and review” session somewhere in your schedule that is convenient for you. For example, if you are a zombie before you go to bed and you don’t want to wake up before your 8:10 a.m. class to review, feel free to “relocate and review” right after your first class – just make sure you do it religously. – Wade & Elle
  • Write down everything. As soon as you think “I’ll remember that” and don’t write something down in your notebook, you cripple the system. You need to have complete trust in the system for it to work, and the only way to achieve that is to feed all of the stuff in your life into the system. If you succeed in doing that, we guarantee you will have less of those “S***! I was supposed to meet with that person this afternoon!” moments.  – Ryan & Kelsey
  • Make it a Facebook substitute. We are all college students – we know that when you get back to your room or sit down at the library your first reflex is to check your News Feed in case something absolutely dire happened to one of your friends (not likely, by the way). Make a habit of opening up your Calendar and Master Task List instead of FB and you will be more productive yet still satisfy that urge to procrastinate a little. – Andie & Sky
  • Style it your way. If you think your iPhone/Blackberry is the greatest invention in the history of mankind, then embrace your inner techie and use it as your Notebook/MTL/Calendar. On the other hand, if you side with Lupe and “like Mont Blanc pens and Moleskin paper,” then go old-school and carry around that real notebook with your favorite pen.

Finally, we wondered if having a separate notebook and MTL/Calendar was really necessary. It seemed redundant to record “stuff” in our notebook, only to have to relocate it all at a later time. In the spirit of Occam’s razor, wouldn’t it be simpler to immediately add tasks to your MTL and engagements/events to your Calendar, and bypass the notebook altogether? We think the answer is “yes.”* If you can make your Cal/MTL portable, either via electronic or paper products, do it! There is a catch though: It has to be portable enough that you can still cary it with you at ALL times. Girls, if you always cary a purse, you have more flexibility because you can use either an electronic Cal/MTL or a date book. Guys, you will need to stick to using a pocketable notebook unless you go the electronic route. Most importantly, ensure that you review religiously, whether you use the three step or two step version of the system.

*If you found that the notebook stage was crucial to your success or disagree for another reason, leave us a comment and let us know!

  1. Shannon, Mills College Study Hacks
    January 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I really liked your post, especially the emphasis you placed on the importance of categorizing all the “stuff” you have to do. I think categorizing “stuff” into “tasks, engagements, and events” could also be a useful tool for figuring out whether your plan for the day is balanced, i.e. whether you are unrealistically planning to spend an entire day completing a series of focus-intensive tasks that you might ultimatley abandon halfway done the list as a result of burnout, when planning a little time between those tasks to have dinner with a friend (an “engagement”) would ultimately leave you feeling refreshed and calm enough to actually get a significant amount of work done. Interesting stuff to think about…Thanks!

    • January 23, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Shannon! Your point about the system being “anti-burnout” in nature is a great. Best of luck to SHOC@Mills!

  2. Jennifer Good
    January 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Sorry I had to leave for this part of the meeting, but this is almost exactly what I do, and it works really well for me. It’s organized with a weekly calender on one side, so I put my events there. Then the other side is just lined. On that side, I write everything I need to do (indefinite time). Then, I cross them out as I get them done. I also rank order them in the order I’m going to do them. At the end of each week, I copy it over. It really helps me get everything done.


    • January 23, 2010 at 11:18 pm

      No problem, Jenn! It was great you could come for the first part. I see you’ve obviously got this figured out better than most of us, but should I suspect any less from someone who spent high school summers designing manufacturing processes for copper nanotubes? 😉 See you at the next meeting or, knowing CMC, quite possibly sooner!

  3. Brandon @ CMC
    January 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Great ideas guys. Time blocks between “stuff” are also crucial for having a successful schedule. Another great “hack” is to estimate the absolute most time an activity could take and allot even more time after that. This helps to remove stress and avoid flaking on plans. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • February 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks, Brandon! Your comments regarding controlling your schedule and planning time for your assignments is actually the topic of our meeting today. I’ll be sure to post the results, and nice job predicting the future!

  4. Cal
    February 2, 2010 at 6:13 am

    This is a great meeting summary. As I mentioned to Connor in a recent discussion, the question that intrigues me is whether those trying capture on an electronic device will find that it works. I’m somewhat tech-backwards, but there was always enough slowness in entering something in a phone or PDA that kept an old fashioned notebook in my hand.

    • February 5, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Cal! Our follow up meeting is tonight and I’ll be sure to include results comparing the analog and digital capture techniques. I’m a tech nut, but I have to say, I am addicted to Black n’ Reds and Uniball micros after your post on the notebook method.

  1. March 24, 2010 at 3:35 am

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