Review: UG Monk Analog Notecard Productivity System

A Japanese tea ceremony for your todo list.

Every morning I do the same thing. Rain, shine, wind, snow. Doesn’t matter. I get up, go outside, and either submerge myself in cold water (if we’re near some) or use a bandanna to dowse myself in cold water. Then I do some spiritual exercises, between 200-400 kettlebell swings (depending on the day), and then make some tea and eat breakfast with my family.

This ritual forms an anchor from which I rarely deviate, but the rest of my day is not structured at all. My job requires flexibility. Some days I need to sit and write, other days I need to be out wandering around testing cameras, paddle boards, backpacks, and other things.

To balance this out I recently added a second ritual at the end of my day thanks to a little wooden box called Analog.

Analog, a Japanese tea ceremony for your todo list.

My work day usually starts around 9 AM. I pick up a note card that has the tasks I am focusing on that day and start doing them. I don’t have to think about what I should do, spend any time planning what to do, and I don’t for the love of god start my day by looking at my email. I don’t even open my laptop. I pick up a notecard. At the top of the card today it says, write about notecard ritual. I start writing.

I have been doing this for decades. I wrote a short blurb about how I use note cards as a “planner” for my friend Medea Giordano’s guide to paper planners. I was surprised by how much email I got from this little thing I contributed. Eventually I wrote a more extensive guide to how I use note cards as a planning tool. This led someone to email me and ask if I had tried something called Analog, from a company with the curious name of UG Monk.

I wrote a review of Analog for Wired, so if you want more on the nuts and bolts of what Analog is and why I like it, read that. What I want to talk about here is something I only mention in passing in the Wired review, that is the potential usefulness of ritual in everyday things.

Back to the notecard I picked up about 10 minutes ago, the one that said, write Analog review. This notecard which holds everything I need to do, gets filled out in the evening of the day before, when I stop working.

Before I got the Analog Starter Kit, this process was somewhat haphazard. For someone whose morning ritual is well honed, my afternoons are more chaos. Analog changed that to some degree. The process I go through did not change, but the way I did it and the focus I bring to it now is greater than before. Why? Because I have a beautiful walnut box now.

Ritual is important because it it makes mundane activities sacred. Eating a cracker is nothing. The ritual of the Eucharistic makes the cracker more than a cracker.

I would never want anyone to think that going over the stuff you need to do is a religious ceremony, but if you can bring a little of that intensity to other things it can help. Ritual is both a way of focusing, and a way of reinforcing the behavior. Pick the right rituals, the right behaviors, and you can change your life.

I think ritual is important because if you look at something like Analog, which is $108 plus tax, it might seem like a lot to spend on something for your todo list. But if the money spent, the object acquired, raises the level of respect you have for what you’re doing, if it helps bring a ritual aspect that inspires you to sit down and use them then $108 is nothing.

This is why I say Analog is a Japanese tea ceremony for your todo list.

If you’re not familiar with a Japanese tea ceremony it’s an extremely ritualized way of preparing and drinking tea (matcha). It started in the 16th century as an artistic hobby of the upper class and warrior elite, and eventually spread to wealthy merchants and others looking for formal ways forge and reinforce strong social ties. The ceremony itself is highly choreographed and to do it right requires years of study. It’s usually done in a small room, modeled on a hermit’s hut, with room for four or five people. The point is to pull people out of the mundane world of their busy lives to temporarily focus on the tea and conversation.

Creating a ritual around a todo list can have the same effect, helping you to withdraw from the busyness of actual doing, and focus on why you’re doing anything at all, and what you hope to get out of it. Do you need this for everything? No, there are some things you just have to do and you know why, like the emails you need to send and phone calls you need to make. But then, why are making those phone calls and sending those emails? Uh, because I have a job. Okay, but why do you have that job? What do you get out of it that you don’t out of any other job?

These are the sorts of higher level questions that are worth thinking about on a regular basis.Not everyday, maybe not even weekly, but once a month it’s worth reflecting on why you’re doing what you doing, not just what you need to get done. This is what Analog has made me thing about more.

Daily Reviews With Analog

At the end of the day — which might be anywhere from 3 to 8 depending on the day — I sit down with my notecard and I see what I didn’t get to that day. I decided if those things are things I am still committed to doing, and, if so, I write them on a card for the next day. I also mark them as deferred by using a >, which I think I stole from bullet journaling.

Then I pull out the notecard that holds my weekly tasks, another with monthly tasks, and another with seasonal tasks (quarterly tasks if you prefer), along with a notebook that contains my longer term, strategic goals and list of projects. I review all these lists and make sure that tasks are getting done so projects are moving forward. Based on all this I write down my goals for the next day.

Once I have the next day’s todo list filled out, I put it on top of my Analog box and go do something else for the remainder of the day.

This little review ritual might sound complex, but it’s not. It took longer to write it than it does to do it. I spend about five minutes on this each afternoon. Sunday mornings I spend about an hour going through the same process, but at higher level, looking at my longer term goals and figuring out what needs to get done in the next next season, next year, next five years.

Analog does two things that I think are important. The first is physical — it gives me a place to put my notecards. I put everything in the box, then I can put it away and my work day feels done. Pull it out again the next morning and I know it’s time to focus. It’s a good way to bookend my days, which is particularly helpful for people whose work varies from day to day.

The second is the ritual aspect. I think a lot of times I get caught up in rushing to do stuff without putting in the more difficult, higher level thinking that ought to precede putting items on your todo list. Why am I doing this? That kind of thinking comes out more when you turn your daily review into a kind of tea ceremony, which, at least for me, Analog very much helps to do. Everyone’s job is different of course. I’m not sure a ceremonial ritual around my todo list would have been as helpful when I was running a restaurant. But it might have. It might have been a faster way to figure out that running a restaurant wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. So maybe I take that back. Maybe we could all use a little tea ceremony in our days. Whether Analog fits into that is your own decision, but it’s definitely working for me.


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