Daily Done - Part 7: Minimalism Is The Key


This is part 7 of a series of articles that started here: Daily Done: a sustainable paper-based productivity system.

Up to this point, we’ve talked a lot about the practical aspects of the Daily Done System:

But how can you be sure that this system is going to succeed in the long run? The answer mostly lies in one word: minimalism. Let’s speak about it today…

A paper system

First, let’s remind the advantages of using a paper-based system.

There are three main reasons:

First reason: physical limits

Because paper gives us a natural limit on the number of tasks to manage for lack of space, we are not tempted to write every task that comes to mind. We just write what we really need to do. This prevents us from spending lots of time managing a high number of tasks.

Second reason: flexibility

Although it is limited in space, a paper-based system allows for a lot of flexibility. When you use software, you are constrained by the limitation of the software. Maybe the creator of the software designed it for a certain usage, but it is not exactly the same usage you had in mind.

With paper, you can customize your pages to your usage. You can quickly and easily draw circles, squares, strike-throughs, or even a doodle if you like. And you can print a large variety of templates in advance to satisfy all kinds of needs. This allows you to experiment much more quickly to see what works and what doesn’t.

Third reason: a physical presence

With software, you can’t have your to-do list constantly under your eyes. It’s true nowadays we use multiple digital screens, but it’s not practical to dedicate one of your screens for your tasks.

With paper, you can leave your tasks in front of you, so that you don’t forget to update them all day long. A physical paper system is also much more comforting to use than a software. And as a bonus, it can’t evaporate as easily as digital data, which plays a role in feeling a sense of safety at work.

The dangers of rampant overheads

As I mentioned, paper systems have physical limits and fewer capabilities. In one word, they don’t have superpowers.

You can’t endlessly tweak the settings to suit your needs, try this fascinating AI new feature, or hunt for the next trendy software. So it makes you less likely to “play” with your system instead of actually working.

But if you make a quick search on the internet for a mark or organizers like Filofax for example, you will see that people always figure out ways to “play” with their system, even when it’s paper-based. They would draw unicorns, create fancy models and use colorful glitter pens.

What do I say about it? I think it’s not sustainable.

If you focus on decoration, you will spend a lot of time on it, while you could have spent more time on the real work, like prioritizing your tasks for example.

It doesn’t mean you need to make your system ugly. Just use a clean, minimal page, something extremely boring like this model I use all the time:

And if you need to adapt your model to suit your needs, always ask yourself if the overhead costs associated with a more complex model are worth it.

Enrich your system carefully

Although you don’t want to add useless decorations to your system, for fear of spending too much decoration time on it, you might like to add other functional units to it. For example, you might like to add a paper-based weekly or monthly calendar. Or maybe not, because you already use a digital calendar like Google Calendar.

Maybe you don’t even need to implement all we’ve seen so far. You can simply stick to the most important part, which in my opinion is to write a daily plan each day. I think it’s wise at the beginning to stick to a minimal system first, then enrich it as you go.

The sophistication of your system will depend as well on your situation. Do you have a very clear picture of what is coming up in the next months, with an action plan, milestones, and weekly check-ins? Or perhaps you use the Scrum method with sprints? Then you might want to add a calendar-like model to manage it.

You can also use a hybrid digital/paper approach. Let’s say you manage your daily plan on paper and your backlog of tasks in digital form. Obviously, the solution will be different if this is a personal project or a team project, where you need to collaborate using a common system.

As you can see, minimalism is the best guarantee to make your productivity system sustainable. A paper-based daily system is already a good foundational basis to avoid your system to run out of control. But you need to be careful to avoid “playing” too much with it.

You can add new functional units on top of it, but I recommend you make careful choices, each time asking yourself if the incurred overhead is worth it. In the end, it’s a matter of experimenting and seeing what is manageable in the long run.


About the author 

Alex Philippe

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