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On Ugmonk's Analog System

Last updated in Summer 2021 5 min read

Going all Analog for personal task management was the best choice I've ever made regarding productivity.

Now, I backed Ugmonk's Analog project on Kickstarter before I got into Stoicism, but it came along at the perfect time for me. Part of my daily Stoic practice is journaling—on paper—and that led me back to analog tools. Around the same time, I was getting into Basecamp's style of working through Shape Up . Part of Shape Up's process is that you work collaboratively using the Basecamp software, but it's up to you to maintain your own little Someday/Maybe list when it comes to fixing bugs or trying something new. This is because under Shape Up, the company doesn't maintain a backlog.

Where this led me to is a place where I thought "maybe it's a good idea to use digital tools for stuff where other people are involved, and go analog for my own shit." Reason being, you should use the simplest solution possible. Pen and paper is simpler than a task management application. Score 1 for pen and paper. No one other than me needs to see my task list. Score another for pen and paper. If I have to maintain a paper task list, I'm going to think long and hard about dumping every idea I have into it. Game over.

Do Less

If you seek tranquility, do less.

This Marcus Aurelius quote has been my mantra for 2021. In order to leave myself the margin to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities, I've decided to say "no, but maybe later" as a default to others and myself. That's not to say I haven't made huge commitments this year.

  • I'm having a kid (pretty big)
  • I started learning Latin (time consuming)
  • I began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (physically taxing)

I didn't take any of these on lightly. These were all clear "yes"es. Greg McKeown in Essential had a great line about "If it isn't a CLEAR YES, it should be a CLEAR NO."1

The Analog System

Analog is GTD. I know GTD. Been doing it for years. It's ingrained in me at this point. But I know it's overkill. I work from home. I always have any tool I need to do a particular task thanks to my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Contexts feel meaningless now. Areas of Responsibility make sense. Projects are a thing. But the structure GTD provides is most unnecessary for me now. I need a list of things that are important but not urgent, a dedicated place for listing up shit to get done today, and then a couple buckets to drop dumb ideas into. Next Actions, Today, and Someday/Never.

Analog has three types of artisanal index cards—mapping directly to these three lists. It has a lovely stand to put them in and even a fancy carrying case if you miss your hipster PDA . Jeff Sheldon makes nice stuff and his love of the calm life aligns closely with mine. If I could have a symposium with people alive right now, it'd be me, Jeff Sheldon , Matt Smith , Ryan Holiday , and DHH .

Most importantly, it's a pain in the ass to manage a ton of Next and Someday/Never cards2. Writing a task down on expensive fancy Analog cards is a commitment. You're saying you care about this idea. You intend to do it (or in the case of Someday/Never, you at least really want to it). You'll have to rewrite tasks. It's unavoidable. Cards fill up. You have to carry stuff over to new cards. You want to avoid rewriting anything. You do this by:

  1. Never write down something you don't intend to do
  2. You give up on stuff you don't think is important anymore.

It's too easy to save every dumb task and carry them around for years in a system like OmniFocus. Zombie tasks live on forever. The fourth time you write "Publish my memoirs", you'll think long and hard about whether it's important to you. Analog is annoying. It's tedious. This is a feature, not a bug.

The Results

After nearly seven months of using Analog, am I happy with it? Hell, yeah. It's beautiful, streamlined, and functional. I use the little dots in the top right corner of my Today cards to answer my three daily Stoic review questions:

  1. Did I honor the four cardinal virtues? (wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance)
  2. Did I treat others with consideration?
  3. Did I make myself a better person?

Sometimes, none of the dots get filled in. It's a good reminder that I need to do better the next day. Nothing to get down about. I haven't found a great use for the three dots on Next and Someday cards though. If anyone has good ideas (that aren't what Jeff Sheldon proposed) please share them with me .

This may not work for you. You may be a special snowflake who couldn't live without a digital task management system.3 But if you've ever thought, "fuck, I spend a lot of time fiddling with my task app", give Analog a try. Or at least start with the Ivy Lee Method. Do the simplest thing that will get the job done. ☮️

  1. Also viewable on Twitter .
  2. I'd love a custom run of Analog cards where the Somedays were labeled Someday/Never!
  3. 🤷🏻‍♂️