Collecting: The Basics

This article first appeared on Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue Collecting, subscribe and buy here

What is collecting?

In productivity terms, collecting relevant pieces of information and incorporating them in your productivity platform is a pretty big deal.  This term: Collecting describes that part of your habits in a pretty straightforward way.

Information needs a home. For millennia this home was a parchment, simple notebook, or graffiti on the walls of the caves. But as the digital world advanced, we got devices like computers, smartphones tablets and smart watches to help us store our most important information conveniently and accessible, gradually replacing analog tools.

But no matter the advancement of technology, there are still people out there, who have no clear idea on how to run their own productivity platform in a way that leverages these tools and lead a more productive life. Tools and resources are here; but without a clear guide, and without the productivity culture to back it up, we are left in the gutter. We have these AMAZING gadgets that are sitting in our pockets, but we’re using only a fraction of their true potential.

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But don’t worry! Even if you are an “analog guy”, this article can still apply to you. The Collecting stage of CORE is empowered through guiding principles, not with technology. So even if you are passionate about your analog tools, don’t worry, we got you covered (because here at Alpha Efficiency we also embrace analog as a part of our game).

Dissecting Collecting

In order to collect we need to understand the guiding principles of Collecting:

  • The Capturing Tool
  • Unified location for your data
  • Always being accessible to you
  • Simplicity

In order for this process to be complete and meet Alpha guidelines, it should possess these four guiding principles. If you are an analog person, this could be your pocket notebook, or if you are going digital it may be a smartphone or tablet. These could be your capturing tools regardless, it needs to be in one place, wherever you develop your habit for accessing your information. This principle of “unity” – all ideas and inputs in one place – adds a layer of simplicity in an of itself.

For those truly dedicated who want to succeed in obtaining this habit, the principle of simplicity will absolutely make this task manageable, and more pleasant.

Here are the simplest ways to collect within an existing system:

  • Email
  • Pen and Paper
  • Smartphone Camera and audio recording

Why should we collect?

There is so much data out there, and despite us being connected to the internet 24/7, the content of the web changes, and some things that used to be accessible once disappear the very next day, or sometimes even the next minute. There are also things offline that we want to have access to, at the convenience of our fingertips, but don’t quite have them yet.

We need to collect; collecting gives us our own peace of mind,  to achieve clarity on what is important and to ensure that our data is right where we need it when we need it. One other important factor is estimating time demands. This is empowering our decision making process and prompting us to quick and decisive action towards our goals.

What should we collect?

When you are “going Alpha” on your goals, you want to have laser focus. Being the digital hoarder, I often find myself collecting Everything, but everything is way too much. Everything is good when you want to develop a habit of collecting, but in the long run, it means clutter, and everything is often not what we *truly* need.

When we face the piled up list of unsorted bits, we certainly get turned off with “everything” we’ve collected. This mentality can, and will, lead to procrastination. You have no idea of the amount of brain farts I go through each day over the tasks and ideas that should be done at some point in future but have no relevance to my present moment. “Everything” is far from minimalism, and far from essential.

The bottom line of collecting is that we need to collect the critical information. Anything that is in symbiosis with our most important goals. Something that is giving us clarity and clears the clutter out of the way. The true Alpha is known for keeping his system clean and relevant, by making decisions up front on what isn’t coming into his/her platform.

How to build the habit of collecting?

We tend to treat the whole personal productivity platform as a habit. But the first step in enabling this platform is learning how and when to collect. As with every habit, the key lies in starting small. There needs to be a daily ritual in place, that will enable this action and make it meaningful. This is where the “Lego House” effect comes into play and a portion where you will need to figure out what works for you.

People will often give you the advice of keeping a notebook, but I found a notebook very inconvenient in my life. It is not easily accessible, I don’t have a habit of carrying it with me EVERYWHERE, and it is a single-purpose tool. While I do use notebooks, I’ve found my smartphone to be a better companion for this endeavor, as it has way more power when it comes to collecting, allowing me to take audio notes, photos and write text in an eco-friendly manner.

You need a Trigger. Trigger is an external stimulus that will prompt you to collect the particular piece of relevant information. You will want to collect things that are important; whenever you sense that something is important, your trigger should switch the light bulb on and propel you to capture that data.

Unlike with systems, I am not referring to tasks here. I am referring to everything that we might need at some moment in the future that is critical to things running smoothly in your day-to-day operations.

> Bonus tip: Find the reason why you want to be organized. Aimlessly wishing to be organized for the sake of being organized is not going to work. You need the specific reason to correlate the habit of collecting with your own agenda, and the ways it relates to your goal.

Another thing you can do is to prepare. Preparing yourself for building this habit will significantly increase chances of you being able to acquire it. Prepare things like:

  • Your Notebook (for analog guys)
  • Your Smartphone (kill open loops)
  • Setup your Triggers (setup reminders)
  • Commit to this daily (as long as it takes to become second nature)

Most Common Problems With Collecting

When you start building a habit of collecting, you will encounter a lot of different problems that might impede your habit creation, but more or less, all of these problems can be summarized in next 4 categories.

  • Capturing tool not accessible
  • Collecting Too Much (for those of us with OCD)
  • Collecting Too Little Or Not At All
  • Collecting Irrelevant Data

All these issues can be solved with mindfulness. Being aware that we need to collect specific information (or make a decision to discard it) will help us in the process.

Personally, I solved the issue of capturing tool by always having my smartphone with me. I am very aware that the chances of not having my phone with me are slim to none. It is my portal to the world as well as my capturing device.

If you want your smartphone to be your capturing device, you have to keep in mind that you will need to kill the problem of the phone being the “open loop” the same way you would deal with email. You will need to shut down all unnecessary notifications so you can have the peace of mind required for uninterrupted collection.

Questions to weed out the unnecessary things from your platform

Before you decide to capture specific information, here we included a short list of questions that will help you achieve what you can discard, and what you truly need to collect:

  • Do I have immediate benefit from collecting this piece of information?
  • Do I really need this?
  • How relevant is this information to my goals?
  • Is this critical to my life in some way?
  • What am I going to *do* with this?

Treat these questions as a filter and in the long run, you’ll reduce the issues commonly experienced in the second step of CORE – organizing. It is similar to food. If you chew your food right, you will have less problems digesting it later. This also prevents those days when you have thousands and thousands of pieces of information that need to be processed.

Take the time to get this first step working right for you. Decide on your preferred collection tool, establish the habit, and start asking yourself those filter questions.  This is the foundation of your personal productivity platform – make sure you get it working how you want.