Tools for Success

A Blank Sheet of Paper and a Pencil

I am constantly looking for ways to improve my productivity, and part of this is looking for tools to help me get more done. I’ve made a list of equipment, apps, devices, and other tools I use that have helped me, but I wanted to start with a combination I use most: a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.


I wanted to start with this (paper and pen) because I don’t want to send the wrong message that you need some fancy tool or new app to succeed. The fact is: you don’t. Too many times we tell ourselves, “IF only I had that phone I would be more productive”, or, “IF only I had a more powerful computer I’d be able to do more”, or, “I need to download that meditation app to help me be calmer”, or, “IF only I had this…”, “IF only I had that…”

My blunt response to this kind of “IF ONLY” thinking is this: IF you’re not productive where you currently are, doing what you’re currently doing, with the tools you currently have, adding some new tool, device, app, or paraphernalia is not going to change much.


Tools enhance what you already have and who you already are. They don’t determine your success or failure.


I hope you catch this point so that you don’t fall for the “If only…” syndrome as I share with you the other tools I’ve added to my productivity arsenal through the years.


For most of my life, and I believe I’m much better off because of it, all I used were sheets of paper and pencils. I count myself fortunate that I didn’t get used to fancy things and could be productive without a list of requirements. I could be anywhere and get things done with a simple checklist on a strip of paper. I could be commuting and ideating at the same time on a notebook. I could be refreshing my mind with drawing practices on the back of receipt. The very simple ability to law down thoughts, either in text or illustration, on a physical sheet of paper is simple first step towards making an idea more and more tangible until it’s fully realized.


So pick-up a sheet of paper, grab a pen, and start writing and drawing.


The Temptation of the New

Earlier today, I watched a video on the new iPad Pro, and could feel a familiar impulse to buy it. How can you not? Just watch the video.


My mind was thinking of all sorts of benefits to my art and work once I got the iPad. I would be able to work better, be more creative, and…


… I had to stop myself. I was getting carried away. It’s easy to get carried away. Instead of convincing myself, I worked on understanding myself. A good way to do this is to ask yourself questions.


Do I really need a new device?


What can I do now, with what I already have, to be more



Am I maximizing what I already have?


Most of us have phones, and can we say they have made us more productive? I understand that they can  make us more productive, but have all the extra notifications, social media on-the-go, and entertainment on demand made us more distracted? Obviously, all the time we spend on Facebook and Fortnight isn’t leading to greater productivity. (Unless of course you’re a marketer or professional gamer.)


The NEW tempts us. It makes us think that by adding something we will be better. Resist this kind of thinking. How many books have we purchased that remain unread? How many apps have we download that are barely even opened?  How many life hacks have we read (and shared) that we have never practiced? There’s so much from our experiences that disprove the idea that new is better.


The Power of Who You Are, Where You Are, What You Have, Right Now

We will continuously fall for the NEW when our basic assumption about ourselves is that we don’t have enough. So I remind myself that I have enough, who I am is enough, and that I’m not coming from a position of lack. When we focus on maximizing who we are now, where we are now, and what we have now, we will inevitably find so many big and small ways to utilize our present selves. Before buying into the idea that a new phone will make you more productive, improve your time management.


For me, I live by lists. I have lists for all the different areas of my life, and I have a list for every day of my life. Then throughout the day, I just follow the items on the list. It’s really simple – and it works!


Here’s a sample from today’s schedule. I’m currently using a Blackwing plain notebook and a Blackwing Palomino Wood Pencils, but don’t feel the need to purchase those if you’re not actually a more advanced artist. Any pen on any paper will do.


No need to complicate your lists. Keep them simple and straightforward. Fancy doesn’t mean better. Sometimes fancy just complicates things.


If you want a more detailed explanation of lists, check out the book Listful Thinking, available on Amazon Kindle.

My Favourite Pen & Paper Uses

Other than making lists, I like to use pen and paper for the following:

  1. Mind Mapping
  2. As a portable Whiteboard
  3. Sketching and drawing exercises

I’ll write about them in separate posts, but for now, let me say a short description of how I use pen and paper for each.

For Mind Mapping, I like to write (or draw) a central idea in the middle of a clean sheet of paper and branch out connecting thoughts. I don’t pay too much attention to the structure. I just try to capture ideas and their relationships as I think about them.


As a Whiteboard, people who work in my teams will tell you that I normally am always writing on whiteboards, windows, and sheets of paper during meetings. I do this because I find that illustrating an idea, making lists visible, and the tactile act of writing (or drawing) improves collaboration and communication. In meetings where a whiteboard is unavailable, I find that having paper handy is able to do the job. It’s not uncommon for people to ask if they can keep my scribbles after the meeting.


For Sketching and drawing exercises, I’ve been trying to get back into drawing, something I did a lot of throughout my life. I’ve been so busy the past few years that two of my favourite creative activities, drawing and playing piano, have really suffered. So I’m back to doing beginner sketching exercises, relearning how to draw with my whole arm and shoulder, and redeveloping precision. I find that the exercises have been amazing stress relievers for me as well.


If you only take away 3 things…

  1. You don’t need something new to be a better you. Maximize what you have now.
  2. A blank sheet of paper and a pen is a powerful productivity combo. They’re available, affordable, versatile, and effective.
  3. Make simple lists and get your thoughts on paper.


Note: If you have any questions you would like to ask, you have three ways to get in touch with me:

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