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I use a GTD system, which places a lot of focus on capturing thoughts for processing into next actions or projects. I've personally found this to be very helpful in getting myself more organized, but I've found there are times and places where capturing thoughts aren't so easy. Some examples of this include:

  • The Shower
  • While Driving
  • In the movie theatre

There are a host of times where my usual capture methods can't be easily used - I'm sure there are more out there. I have learned that if I don't capture these thoughts within a relatively short period of time, I'll struggle to recall it later once I'm sitting in front of a pen & paper or my iPhone. What can be done to capture these thoughts for later review?


While I mentioned three specific examples of this problem, there are certainly other cases where this problem exists. Suggestions regarding capture in these sorts of scenarios would also be appreciated, although I'm getting the sense that the vast majority of cases are covered by the general application of answers already given.

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Great ideas. I see this is a common concern. I awake in the morning, still lying there eyes closed - my mind flits from one thought to another. I would love to capture these but once my mind flits to another, the previous dissapated. For many years I have thought "If only we could mentally turn on a recorder of our thoughts, without disrupting the flow." Yes and sometimes in inopportune times like mentioned here. – user2266 Jan 9 '12 at 20:09
I find this site full of my problems (already asked) – Amit Gupta Jan 22 '13 at 17:37
distracted mind at the time of driving may lead accident. distracted mind at the time of bath may lead wastage of water. ;-) – Amit Gupta Jan 24 '13 at 2:29

14 Answers 14

up vote 9 down vote accepted

For the shower, you can keep an erasable marker in the bathroom, which can be used to jot down notes on the tile or mirror, then wiped away when the thought is captured elsewhere. Reminders written on the mirror are hard to miss, btw.

For movie theaters, or anywhere I don't want to mess with my phone, I keep a Hipster PDA handy. Writing without looking may not result in the neatest handwriting ever, but it does capture the idea.

In the car is a problem for me, too. Usually I wait for a red light or stop sign and jot it on the Hipster. I used to just dial my home phone number and leave a message for myself, but now I just have a cell and the cell company won't let me leave messages on my own phone, so that's a strikeout. I have been known to call someone else and have them write it down, but that's way too many headaches for day to day use.

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As I had mentioned in another comment, getting a Google Voice number can allow you to leave voicemail to yourself using only a cell phone. Also has the nice advantages of voice transcription and email receipt of the mail. Just in case this helps you as it did me. – jasedit Jul 6 '11 at 16:39
Virtually every smartphone has an audio recorder app, which you can use like a memo pad in your car. No phone number needed, and no roaming charges. Of course, you have to remember to check it, which you should probably write down somewhere. As an alternative, you could use the voice recording in Evernote if you use Evernote already. – GTK Jan 14 '12 at 1:07

For driving, you could try a voice activated recorder. For showering or the movie theater, I repeat the idea to myself a number of times so I will remember it later. I find I have one big thought in the shower and rarely any during a movie so this works well. On the rare occasions I have a thought early in the movie like during previews, I scribble it on paper. Just because I can't see, doesn't mean I can't write. It's not too legible, but if I make large letters I can still get the idea.

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For voice notes, a posible improvement is to use a Google Voice voicemail account if you have one. You can set up your number so it directs you straight to voicemail if the call comes from your own number. It allows voice dialing to add a note, can transcribe the result, and send it to your email. Unfortunately, repeating a thought to myself/trying hard to remember it doesn't work as well - I just end up knowing I had a good thought, but not what it was. – jasedit Jul 6 '11 at 3:02

I spent a few weeks trying to come up with a good domain name recently and it is truly amazing how often the ideas pop into your head in the places you mention in your question. It can only be something to do with the fact that your mind is ranging freely in this context, but the problem you are trying to solve is still sitting in the back of your mind somewhere.

Shower: Write on the mirror or shower glass using a bar of soap as your pen. Works brillianly and is easy to erase.

Driving: I use the voice recording function in my Evernote for Android app (I'm sure it is available on iPhone too). Once the audio file has synced to my laptop I can do whatever I like with the thought - type it up, add it to a todo list, delete it.

Movie Theatre: I would put my phone in 'airplane' mode and then use the text note function in Evernote. But I must admit I don't often come up with ideas in movie theatres.

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When my daughter was younger we had tub crayons for her to draw with. Maybe those will work in the shower. More colors. :)

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Shower: AquaNotes or any waterproof paper.

Movie theater: A pen and PocketMod as long as you can write legibly in the dark.

Driving: A voice recorder (I bought a Sansa 200 MP3 player for this purpose since it had a dedicated record button).

You can apply these same tools to most other situations (swimming and skydiving excepted), but for the ultimate in ubiquitous capture you could brush up on a few memory techniques.

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+! for AquaNotes - I'll have to try that out. – jasedit Jul 8 '11 at 15:23

In addition to all the great advice here, I'd like to add, in the worst case scenario, memorization until you can write it down; a nuisance similar to having a pebble in your shoe, but if the idea is worth it... David Allen mentions somewhere a scientific test that proves that our mental cache has a capacity of 7-9 items simultaneously.

I also think that one must assume a certain amount of ideas will get lost, insignificant amount OTOH if you compare it to the pre-gtd times when you mostly let the whole flow get lost... Besides, I don't know about you guys, but for me, with certain ideas, I know that they will come back again and again until I decide to get them captured, so I sometimes let them show along 4, 5 times with no hurry in catching them... Maybe it's not the most efficient way to function, but it keeps me from being too stressed for being all the time in 'hunt mode'.

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Came across this thread when searching for a solution myself. This reply won't help @jasedit in the shower or theater, but definitely in the car - and other places where it is cluncky to start typing on the phone.

I do voice recording on my phone. But; it's too much fiddling with the built-in voice recorder, so it needs to be optimized for "GTD-like capture". Eg; open app, talk, exit. Automagically voice note appears in inbox of choice.

On iOS, I can really recommend Audiopad. Started using that after Note2Self disappeared from AppStore. Clever use of proximity sensor, so open app, lift to ear, talk, done.

On Android, I tried a boatload of different solutions but ended up with NetMemo Plus [2]. It really does the same magic; open app, talk, stop talking and the mail is in my work inbox. (Can configure different app icons on start screen for different destinations, sync to Dropbox etc, but I haven't had the need for that).



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For simpler tasks/thoughts, you could use a memory method. I learnt the Tea, Noah, Maypole system back 15-20 years ago, and whereas I now dump 99% of what I need to recall immediately in my GTD/Evernote system, it still comes in handy for times like you have mentioned.

An example for those unfamiliar with such systems, if I was in the shower and had to remember to put the trash out, ring Big Tony about New Year's Eve and change an algorithm to sort the retrieved data by creation date, I would:

  • visualise being served a cup of tea in a miniature garbage can and choking when the aroma reached my nose, looking inside the cup to see it full of old rotting tea bags.

  • visualise an miniature Ark sailing on the leg of a person in bed, climbing their big toe to get the best view of the NYE fireworks, but then getting booed for blocking everyone else's view, so deciding to sail back down to their knee hump where the view was still good.

  • visualise a maypole spinning extremely fast, throwing off humans riding it into a perfectly aligned queue, with old grey people at the head of the queue and babies last.

Such movies are so unusual and vivid that when I get to a keyboard, I think "Tea", "Noah" and "Maypole" and the appropriate movies come to mind. I think "Ray of light" (the next sequenced anchor word after Maypole) and nothing immediately comes to mind, so I know I've now remembered everything.

The beauty of GTD comes from knowing everything has been captured, eliminating that feeling of anxiety from thinking you may have forgotten something. The Tea, Noah, Maypole system (and there are many different versions of the same thing and tons of books/websites on it), similarly eliminates that feeling, so doesn't corrupt GTD.

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I also find this method very helpful when other gadgets are unavailable! I usually try to imagine number and the thing to memorize in a funny situation. But Tea, Noah, Maypole sounds easier. Do you have any reference to more information about this method? – hostnik Mar 24 '13 at 11:21
There's a quick intro I found at – jontyc Mar 24 '13 at 12:58
I would give you another +1, if I could :) The link is just what I needed. – hostnik Apr 1 '13 at 17:06

My great ideas almost always come in the shower. I use a waterproof notepad called aquanotes to write them down so I don't forget them.

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I find that I have to get things down immediately, or else the next thought will overwrite my mental stack, so I agree that this is a problem.

It's unlikely you'll have to jot down more than a few words to remember your idea later, so solutions need not be able to cope with all that much input. Quite often the mere fact that you have made a note of some kind is enough to bring things back, irrespective of its specific content.

The shower: I don't see that much of a need for a marker to write on the mirror etc. There should be time to get out of the shower and dry your hands a little before you jot down your idea, so a notepad and a pencil work. Getting the paper a little moist isn't a problem, since the pencil doesn't run, and you should find enough dry spots to hold a few words.

The movie theater: If use of cellphones isn't forbidden, then I suggest using that, otherwise I agree with the others here that writing in the dark on a notepad is a lot better than nothing. A notepad is a good backup anyway in case your phone battery dies on you.

Driving: a voice recorder is the way to go here. Put a shortcut to the one in your cell phone on the start homescreen so you don't have to fiddle around in the menus there. Call yourself (works on my cell phone provider, and the fact that you now have voicemail is a great reminder to actually do something with the note!). Buy a dedicated little recorder if you drive often and long.

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A digital dictaphone will cover most situations; even in a shower you can leave the device on a shelf by the shower and lean out of the water flow to make a note. The key to leaving notes, when you don't have much time, or it is a somewhat inconvenient setting, is to leave a prompt for what you want to remember, rather than the whole message. If the prompt is a good one then when you replay it the material you wanted to recall will come back to you. Even in a movie theatre you can put a few prompt words onto a dictaphone with disturbing the audience. If you use a high quality dictaphone it can also be linked to voice recognition software (eg., Dragon Naturally Speaking) and at the end of the day you can get a print out of your thoughts - and prompts - without having to listen through the recordings you have made. This can make the process very efficient.

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As a handy tip - rather than a voice recorder for this sort of thing I have used my cellphone to call my own number - It goes straight to answerphone and I leave myself a message that I know I will pick up.

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I am using a tape recorder (the old one, with real tape) - it's cheap, it's reliable, you can have several of those; you can put it in a zip-bag and keep in a shower; you can throw on into glove compartment of your car etc; I even have one next to my bed

It's simplier than cell phone (the buttons are big and you can record your memo while you are driving)

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As a defense attorney, I often have to leave my phone in my car when entering certain courthouses and all jails. I always carry a small (2.5" x 4") notebook in my shirt pocket. I capture there, tear the pages out when I get back to my office, and process them in my inbox with all other incoming papers.

When I am in the car, which I often am, I will call my office and leave myself a voicemail. Not the most elegant solution, but the blinking light on my desk phone ensures that I will listen to and process the message.

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