Always be capturing

  • principles

One of my core principles for working effectively is to Always be capturing. No matter what I’m working on, even if the work is abstract and conceptual, I want to always be creating some artifact that represents the current mental work and can be shared later. This applies in both an individual and group setting.

For me, this principle and the practices I’ve developed are driven from my desire to remove friction and be efficient – to not lose any information that has been revealed and to make it easy to share with others (and even myself later).

Although some may be more inclined to this principle than others, I contend that putting it in practice can be a learned skill and has some significant returns on investment. Here are some concrete examples of what Always be capturing looks like.

In a brainstorming meeting, get everyone to write down their ideas on post-its with sharpies. Your goal here is to gather as much as possible and you want to make sure that the good ideas don’t just vanish into thin air.

In a technical discussion, document the questions and points brought up as your meeting progresses. People are much more likely to talk and contribute if they see their contributions are being captured and have value. Making the words visible helps keep the conversation focused.

In an architectural discussion, work to collaboratively create diagrams (e.g. sequence diagrams) to convey the concepts being discussed. Don’t let groups talk for a long time without capturing something that reflects the concepts being discussed or proposed.

In a collaborative decision-making meeting that requires consensus, outline the different decisions in a shared document that everyone can see and facilitate gathering pros and cons. Use the document to help work towards consensus. My underlying belief here is that when the options and reasons for/against each are made clear, 90% of decisions are made since the common sense consensus is clear. When the decision is not clear, you have gathered in one place the data needed to make the call.

When refining user stories as a team, capture questions and modifications to the story in real-time and use that live feedback to shape the story together.

In a team retrospective, don’t just let people talk, capture what they are saying. In my team, we sometimes we use a digital post-it-and-sharpie tool (such as Miro or Mural); other times we have someone facilitate capturing the feedback in a text document.

When ideas come up, have a notebook to capture them so that you can come back to them later.

In meetings, take notes on the key points, new information, and action points. Having these notes and being able to refer back to them will prove exceptionally valuable. You can do this collaboratively if you’re leading the meeting, but you also gain a lot of value personally from doing this even if you’re the only one who gets the notes. Having coherent notes is a lot like having a time machine.

When you answer a question, write it up in a way that you can share it not only with the person who asked but also for others who may have that same question. You can then broadcast and multiply your impact with the same effort by an order of magnitude (or more). This idea is practiced by many folks, but I’ve recently heard Kent C Dodds talk about this idea.

When you encounter a topic for a standing meeting, add it to a shared living document for next topics for that meeting.

When you find links that you want to revisit or read later, use a bookmark tool to keep track of them.

When interviewing someone, go through your questions and write down key points from their responses. This allows you to go back afterwards, jog your memory and evaluate responses.

When you find out you are responsible for doing something, add it to your to do list. Maintain this list by visiting it regularly, prioritizing items, and marking things off that are complete.

In general how you do the capturing doesn’t matter too much as long as the medium works well for you and others involved and allows you to get most value out of the artifact later.

Always be capturing is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found to work effectively.

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