How I Gained an Hour a Day by Ditching My Productivity Tools

Moleskine GuyIt happened in one of those melon slapping moments — a proverbial Archimedes streaking flash of insight:

I was wasting an hour a day trying to be more productive.

Minimalist Productivity

Thanks to Mark Shead’s interview series, I was forced to examine some time-wasters for my contribution. A couple of days later, my real time-waster occurred to me — my productivity system and tools.

It wasn’t until I started looking all the tools, forms, routines, and processes that were literally sucking away an hour of my time a day, that I found my real time waster.

I decided to go minimalist — a sacrilege to productivity geeks everywhere. So, I did some extensive streamlining…

First, I’m Taking Back My Attention

The first thing I did was deleted about 50% of my feeds. I’m not reading them anyway, and scan most of them out of habit.

Next, I deleted all my Google Reader tags, and replaced them with just 3 — “must-read,” “news-bin,” and “scan:”

  • Must-read” is stuff that provides something of real value, things I need to know, or will make me a better person or entrepreneur.
  • News-bin” is a collection of news aggregating sites. I know with just a quick scan of the list view if something major is happening, because it’ll show up a bunch of times. The other news I can read or skip at my leisure.
  • Scan” is for sites that have occasional gems, but for the most part don’t really benefit me in any way. This is also where I will add new feeds, and then tag them “must-read,” delete them, or keep them tagged “scan” depending on what a new feed offers during a 2-week trial period.

This alone has cut my reading time in half. Now I needed something to track my work…

Oh, Crap, It Really Is the Best Notebook

I opted for analog for my task and project tracking. For me, computer and Web-based tools invited endless tweaking, customizing, and lead to tons of wasted time. So I decided to use a notebook.

Much to my chagrin, it happens to be a Moleskine. I spent at least 45 minutes carefully examining, touching, and analyzing every notebook in the store. I wanted so much to find something I liked better then a Moleskine. But I couldn’t.

So at the risk of looking like a latte-drinking, hipster poet wannbe, I bought a grid-lined full size Moleskine.

I won’t go into the details of how I set it up. It’s basically a mashup of Bill Westerman’s and Isahrai Azaria’s systems, and they’ve done an excellent job of spelling it out.

The Helper Apps

For notes and such, I use gridlined 3×5 cards. I also use them to write out my goals using my goal setting system. There’s something cool about having goal cards, and I can shuffle through them to give me inspiration when I feel like slacking.

I did keep Google Calendar for all date-based items. I like it for a lot of reasons, but having access to what the whole family is doing is one of the best features. As a home-based entrepreneur, what’s going on in the household affects my schedule. It’s replaced a big whiteboard calendar in the kitchen that I never checked anyway.

I never thought I’d be a productivity minimalist, but it works for me. Just by simplifying how I track my work I’ve saved on average an hour a day.

How I use that hour will ultimately determine how successful my new system is


  1. I’m glad to hear that the interview series was helpful.

    I honestly believe that many of the organizational tools and processes are just forms of procrastination. They make us feel like we are getting stuff done as we dance around our true work.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use any type of organization at all, but we have to be careful to make sure we aren’t using organization to avoid the things we really need to do.

    One of the root causes of avoiding work is that we don’t like the work itself. It is sometimes more fun to manage the work than do the work. Sometimes this means we just need to refocus. Sometimes it means we need to change careers to something we love.

    Oh and don’t let anyone hold it against you if you look “like a latte-drinking, hipster poet wannbe” with your fancy new notebook. 🙂

  2. That has got to be one of the funniest illustrations of you I have seen yet. I can totally see you standing at that wall of hippie books trying to blend into the wall, just praying that no one recognizes you from your blog.

    I’ll check out those notebooks to replace my silly Post-It pads I keep stuck to my money clip to write things down.

    Thanks for the advanced research.

  3. I know exactly what you mean… a few weeks back, “productivity blogger” Steve Pavlina posted three separate blogs, each giving 33 tips on how to be more productive.

    Instead of reading them, I was off doing something — being productive.

  4. Excellent post! Mark Shead makes great points about procrastination and the illusion of work. I’ve had bad experiences with CRM tools such as GoldMine and Act. We spent mountains of time collecting, sorting and maintaining data, but the actual business value never amounted to a hill of beans.

    Those experiences have made me a confirmed minimalist. No more Franklin Planners or CRM for me. I keep all my notes and tasks in 6 x 4 spiral notebooks. Works pretty well, but maybe it’s time for a Moleskine.

  5. Mark – You nailed it with “It is sometimes more fun to manage the work than do the work.” If you gauge what you’re doing against your goals, you can see if you are really making progress.

    Jesse – I can see why the Moleskine is so popular. It really is a great notebook.

    Junger – Good point. Learning how to be productive and being productive are very different things.

    Brad – You’re right, there’s something freeing about having everything in a simple notebook. Don’t get me wrong, I love what software can do — but I’m using more specialized tools for specific tasks, and not for the management of my work.

  6. What a gem this post is, and timely! Thanks for the links too. I’ve just started stripping my tools to the minimum and am still figuring out how to do a better to-do list. I’m keeping my Filofax, since I find it handy for keeping business cards and receipts, though I do need to get more refills for my Notes section; my PDA’s great for appointments and reminders. So I’m sticking to three items now — my more-of-a-notebook-than-an-organizer, my PDA, and a pen!

  7. I use a legal pad, a desk calendar and a pen. Have for years. I’ve recently added a tape recorder too, but that means I have to listen to myself on a regular basis if I want my notes.

    Anyway, it’s a simple system that works. I’m never at a loss for what I have to get done. That means I have to come up with new ways of wasting time.

  8. Thanks for this info. I came here at Lorna’s(above) advice. Honestly, I wanted to be as organized as possible as good daddy to my son and loving caring to my wife while juggling the responsibility to update my other blogs, satisfying the sponsors but in the same time, I want my own time doing what i like best. I depend a lot on my laptop. and even that is not organized.
    Thanks again for a such simple solution. I need all the time I can gained… like better stop typing now. 🙂

  9. Hi Tony,

    I’m a big fan of simplifying, so it’s great to hear that you’ve saved a whole hour in your day. Most people don’t think about the accumulated affects of an hour throughout their entire life.

    I like how a question (or interview in this case) is what guided your thinking in this direction. I have a strong belief that we are shaped mostly by the quality of questions that we ask ourselves (or asked of us).

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