Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Bare Minimum You Need to Get and Stay Organized

A notebook, a pen, a phone, and a mug

I was recently chatting with a few people about various topics when one of them casually mentioned that I blog about productivity. One of the people, who I’d only met that day, looked surprised and asked me point-blank What’s the bare minimum I need to stay organized?

To be honest, I was taken aback. Not by being asked the question, but by the question itself. I’ve never thought about organization and productivity from quite that perspective. So, in an effort to gain some thinking space I asked him Why are you interested in that?

He replied that he was tired of complex productivity systems. That he was tired of the multiple-app lifestyle he seemed to be leading. He just wanted a simple, minimal way to keep on track.

With that piece locked firmly into the puzzle, a picture took form in my head. Here’s the advice I gave him.

On the Digital Side

The simplest approach I could come up with involves three parts. The first part is to use text files for notes, task lists, and checklists. You can read my thoughts about doing this in a blog post from 2016.

The second part is using a calendar that lets you schedule your work and set up events and appointments. This could be on your desktop or your mobile device. The calendar should, however, sync between all of the devices that you use during the day.

The third part is optional: a way to synchronize the text files you’re using across multiple devices. That way, they’re within reach whether you’re sitting in front of your computer or holding your phone on a bus or train.

Going Analog

You can go even simpler than what I just described by substituting a paper notebook for the text files and a pocket agenda for the calendar. I did something like this in 2015 with my three-month pen and paper challenge. It didn’t work for me, but there are a number of people out there who organize themselves quite effectively on paper.

Use the notebook to take notes and to create task lists and checklists. Use the agenda for appointments, events, and scheduling. You can, however, combine the two. I know a couple of people who use a Moleskine Daily Planner or Moleksine Weekly Notebook to do everything I mentioned. That approach doesn’t always work for everyone, which is why I suggest using another notebook as a backup in case you need to take longer notes

It’s About More Than the Tools

Whether or not taking a minimal approach to organization works really depends on you. For the minimal approach to work, you need to:

  • Be mindful and aware of what you need to do
  • Show up and be ready to do the work
  • Focus

Without any of that, no tool or system (minimal or not) will help you become more productive and more organized.

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