Capture - 3. Tasks

I feel a little under-equipped to describe the process of capturing tasks - there’s a LOT of information out there on getting this done. I do think that Higher Ed presents some special challenges when it comes to capturing tasks. We don’t just sit at a desk, promises are made in the hallways, and important ideas emerge in the strangest situations.

As a means of comparison, before I worked in Higher Ed, tasks almost always came in the form of emails or phone calls. I was oftentimes at my desk when promises were being made. I always seemed to have my Franklin Planner open and ready for inputs whenever the need arose. Nowadays I find that tasks emerge in very disorganized ways. I’ve lost track of the number of times I finish class, pack my back, and head to the door when a student asks me for something that will result in a task. Collaboration with colleagues many times finds its genesis as we walk between buildings. We’re on the move, and that means that capturing tasks can be a moving target.

Here are some ways that I’ve found to make capturing tasks just a little easier…

Low Tech

The easiest, and perhaps most effective, method I’ve found for capturing tasks on the go is an index card in my pocket. I will often grab one at the beginning of the day, and write short notes about tasks that I’ve gathered on the fly. I tend not to use my low-tech method when I have a way to input the task directly (like when I’ve got my computer open, or can easily enter one on my mobile device), but I do like to use a notecard for capture when I’m moving around campus.

Once I’ve entered a task into my task manager from a notecard, I simply draw a line through the task so that I know it’s been captured. There have been times when I filled a 3x5 notecard on both sides before the day was over. This low-tech method has been one of the best solutions I’ve found thus far.

Medium Tech

Siri - Many task management apps will talk to Siri. I use OmniFocus, and it will grab tasks from a specific list in the iOS Reminders app. This means that I can ask Siri to “Remind me to change Larry’s grade to an A,” and it will capture into my OmniFocus Inbox. I’ve mentioned this before, but I find that it models good productivity-habits for students when I take a moment to capture something in Siri. Many times, my students will ask, “Can you help ME set up something like that?” I am always happy to get that question ;-) If you use OmniFocus, HERE is how to set it up. 

Email Drop - Many task managers have a dedicated email address that will send tasks to your Inbox. I actually entered this address in my contacts list, and nick-named it zzz. When I need to send myself an email (or forward an email) from my mobile device, I just type zzz in the “TO:” field, and it populates my OmniFocus email address. Another REALLY cool idea is to share that email address with people you trust (colleagues, staff, wife). My staff have my task email address, and can send me tasks into my OmniFocus Inbox. I was nervous initially, but I am now extremely happy that others have my task-inbox address. I’m even a little sore when those same people send me an email with a request - I’d rather it just go to my task manager.


Drafts - I can’t say enough about this app for iOS. It is an extremely well-designed text editor. The geniuses at AgileTortoise put a great deal of thought into how one would USE a text-editor on iOS. When you open the app, you get a cursor on a blank note. It opens VERY quickly, and one can just start typing. But the power of Drafts is found when you decide what you want to DO with that piece of text - you can turn it into an email, or a text message, or send it to Evernote, or html. If you use OmniFocus, you can also send the text as a task to the Inbox. This app is reaching the point of replacing my pocket notecard entirely. Drafts has become one of the most important apps in my entire workflow.

A Little Nerdier

There are some ways to automate tasks into your task manager. I use several that I find so useful that it was well-worth the time it took to set it up.

IFTTT - If This Then That is a simple script developer to help manage the “internet of things” (take it from a linguist, that’s becoming a term). I have a couple of recipes that rummage through my gmail inbox looking for key words. When those key words are present, the emails are forwarded to my OmniFocus Mail Drop. For example, some of my student workers accidentally send my messages to my email, rather than my OmniFocus email. I have a “recipe” (that’s what IFTTT calls these scripts) that finds the key word VMS and forwards it to my OmniFocus Inbox. More recently, our finance department asks us to submit a report monthly - but the start-date and due-dates are always changing, so they send us a reminder every month with updated details (uggghhhh). IFTTT looks for the key word, and forwards that to OmniFocus.

Hot-Spot - If I receive a file in an email that needs action, I will usually forward the email (with the attached file) to my OmniFocus Mail Drop. But there are times when I need to act on downloaded files. THIS script has been shared around the internet a few times - it uses Hazel to convert a file into an action in OmniFocus. Joe Buhlig’s instructions are the clearest version I’ve found. He has a GREAT site, BTW!

Capturing tasks is only the beginning - they must be organized and ultimately done (or NOT done), but having ways to ensure that they get captured so that they don’t have to be remembered is key to getting them done. If you’ve any tips for capturing tasks, please feel free to share them!

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/1HOwZ1a

Posted on July 8, 2015 and filed under GTD, Task Management.