Productivity So Simple, A Caveman Could Do It

simple productivity caveman
Photo by joshbousel

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’ve become pretty jaded.

I receive emails every week to review some new life-changing productivity software/system/tool that will most certainly change my life.While all of these tools mean well, 99% miss on the most important part of product management.


I’ve reviewed dozens of productivity tools, and I can say with certainty that the number one most important aspect of a good productivity tools is being drop-dead simple. Unfortunately, the number one most-overlooked aspect of GTD/organization software is also simplicity.

So, I do something a bit different, and it doesn’t require any schmancy tool that makes lists and a shot of espresso. I could use a sharp stick on leather if I wanted. (Note to self: get more leather at local tannery.) No, this system could be used on a phone, a computer, the back of a hand, turtle shell, anywhere. It’s the most versatile, ubiquitous system ever devised.

And I guarantee you’ll get more done.

Are you trembling with excitement, dreaming of all the free time you’ll have for doing all of those things you always wanted? You should be. This will change your life. Are you ready?

simple productivity system
Photo by flash_nerd

The System

  1. Write 3-5 major tasks/small projects/etc. that have to be done today. (These are your Most Important Tasks (or MIT’s.) Do them.
  2. Capture all of the other little stuff that you have to do in the near future. Try to do a few of these each day, in order of when they need to be done (if there’s a deadline attached to them).
  3. At the end of the day, make a list of tomorrow’s MIT’s, and add some of the smaller tasks below them.
  4. Do this every day.

Are you picking up on my subtle sarcasm? You were correct in thinking there might be a little tucked in between the lines of this post. I can’t help myself, and it’s not because I’m disgusted with productivity software, the people who make it or the good people who read this blog that are interested in it. Everyone has their own system tailored to what works best for them (and they should!).

No, I’m disgusted with how many hours I’ve wasted fiddling, downloading, trying, tweaking, learning, changing, installing and comparing different types of productivity software that all promise to make my life simpler. Where has it gotten me?

Here’s What I’m Doing

Because there are those of you who still want to know what my personal system looks like, I’ll indulge. It’s still really simple, even though I use software to help.

I start with an awesome tool called TaskPaper, a really simple but powerful list organizer. It allows me to quickly add tasks, sort them, and tick them off when I’m done. And it outputs to simple text files, so even if I wasn’t using the TaskPaper software, I could still use the same system.

You don’t have to use TaskPaper to plan your day, or any other software for that matter. It’s just comfortable to me, and it’s basically the same as using a text editor with searching and tagging built in.

chasing bear
Photo by floodlama

If you’re thinking you’re still looking for the “perfect” software or tool to solve your productivity woes, it ain’t gonna happen. The problem is rooted deeper than that. It wasn’t until I realized that my productivity problems weren’t the fault of my software that I truly understood what it took to be really productive. It meant not using software and tools as an excuse to put of all the things I needed to do during the day. It meant taking responsibility for getting things done, and not relying on some tool to help me.

What about you? Do you find that your software or system gets in the way of the actual doing throughout your day?

Leave a Comment

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Alicia June 28, 2020, 6:41 pm

    Haha, productivity is simple indeed when you have the right tool :) I use and it really helps me to boost my productivity, it’s awesome.

  • Tim February 20, 2010, 1:57 am

    I just ran into an article in a magazine about a system very similar to this. The complaint was that the to-do list was SO long it was hard to actually get ANY of it done.

    The tip was to keep that master list as a memory device, use it each night to make the next day's action plan, picking no more than 5 priority tasks that are doable in one day, highlight 1 or two tasks that MUST be done that day to do them first thing in the morning, and hopefully the accomplishment should motivate you through the rest of the day's tasks. The one key being to keep the master list out of sight and mind.

    Thanks for the tips! Now I just need to DO it and get things done!

  • Patrice October 12, 2009, 1:05 pm

    Great insight about being productive. Thanks for sharing.

  • Patrice October 12, 2009, 9:05 am

    Great insight about being productive. Thanks for sharing.

  • slothbear September 21, 2009, 6:20 pm

    Thanks for this post. Useful *and* funny (especially the Lego). I mean, especially the simplicity. my thanks.

  • nickejilah September 15, 2009, 3:40 am

    Being productive is one good way to express your self. You can use this as a source of energy to achieve your goals.

  • kazari September 14, 2009, 9:35 pm

    I work with big applications in big organisations – and people always come in excited by the latest software. Or consultants try to sell management on their latest and greatest product.
    What it always comes down to, is you use software to SUPPORT a business process. If you don't have a process in place, it doesn't matter what whizzy software you install. It won't work.
    You see this all the time with document management systems. If people aren't filing stuff sensibly, it doesn't matter what tools you give them. If they ARE filing stuff sensibly, you might give them an easier way to do it, but they'll keep doing it regardless.

  • cptdan September 14, 2009, 11:21 am

    Hello, My name is Daniel, and I am a productivityholic, I am powerless over any new software or GTD tool. I spend more time on my system then a I getting things done – is that a problem???
    Really like your post on keeping it simple. Thanks

  • Dayne | September 8, 2009, 3:12 pm

    This is a wonderful post! I love your simplicity and steps, it makes complete sense. I'm going to try your steps and TaskPaper looks great!