My Productivity System… And What I’m Changing

July 27, 2018 | Get free updates of new posts here

Every creative leader goes through seasons where they feel like they’re knocking projects out of the park, hitting items off their to do list and being pretty dang efficient in what they’re trying to accomplish.

Then there are seasons where getting anything done seems impossible, where we really struggle to feel like we’re moving ahead on anything.

And we all know those times where we’ve written a to do list after we’ve done a few things just so we could have the satisfaction that comes with checking those little boxes ✔️✔️✔️

Creative leaders, as you grow in ability, in responsibility and in authority you have to continue to grow in other skills. You have to learn how to manage projects, how to manage your productivity and how to manage yourself. Not keeping up with your ability in these areas will eventually be a lid for you in your leadership and you will miss out on future opportunities.

Naturally, this is not going to be easy for you. We often have a hard time moving from the big picture vision to the down-and-dirty details to accomplish a goal or finish a project. So you need a system.

Thankfully there are no shortage of great systems out there and you’ve probably tried them all – GTD, pomodoro, inbox zero, the list goes on. And with really intriguing tools like Basecamp, Trello, Asana, Gantt charts, and so many more.

Like you, I’ve been willing to try pretty much every system out there and found that all of them work.. almost. Every system seems to have the nugget of effectiveness that works but at some point they all far short. And that makes sense, because there is no single system out there that will serve the need of every kind of person, every kind of team, every kind of project.

So I’ve landed on developing my own productivity system which has served me really well for several years while being much simpler (and cheaper!) than pretty much any other system out there.

My productivity system:

Email ✉️
Calendar 📆
Moleskine 📓

That’s it. Those three tools.

Why these tools and how does my system work? And what am I changing? Here’s the rundown…


Email really is the killer app. Yes it’s information overload and yes it generates more content the more you use it. But email is not going away any time soon and it is the ubiquitous communication tool. Everyone uses it!

Thanks to Google I’m able to keep all of my email stored in my inbox or in the archive. And of course the power of Google means that everything is searchable and really quick to find.

Did you know you can get really specific with your searches to make gmail even more powerful?

Want to find an email from your friend Jim about your baseball tournament with the schedule attached? Instead of just searching for the word or trying to scroll through endless messages, gmail has a ton of search operators that become really helpful:

baseball has:attachment

Your email has become a tool where you’ve saved the info and can find it really quickly. That’s productive!


Email is for information and calendar is for scheduling. Again Google comes in really strong with this but really any calendar app (and there are tons!) will be helpful. I’ve used Fantastical in the past but it’s pricey. I’ve moved now to using the Calendar app on my Mac and subscribing to multiple Google calendars and that seems to be working fine.

Why calendar? If you’re going to do something and be productive while doing it, you have to make time for it. There are endless books and articles out there on why putting your plans in a calendar is so important.

I have three calendars that I’m relentless about keeping updated:

Fixed calendar – this came out of Carey Nieuwhof’s High Impact Leader course. Here’s my post where I talk more about it and how I’ve blocked out my fixed calendar.

Work calendar – any work-related appointments or meetings go on this calendar. At C4 Church we use Google Suites which means all of my coworkers have access to the free/busy blocks on my calendar. The staff I work with closest have full access to see details and what meetings or appointments are happening. My wife also has access to seeing this calendar so she knows what I’m up to at work.

Family calendar – This is a shared calendar between my wife and I where we put all of our family and social plans. All of them. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist. Vacations, kids’ sports, date nights, it all goes on the calendar so we each have a clear picture of what is happening and when.

If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist!


Email and calendar are great but man cannot live on digital tools alone. Several years ago I started using Moleskine notebooks and I haven’t looked back. Yes they’re a little pricier but the extra cost is worth it. Your investment will force you to use it and the investment will be worth it.

I’ve tried different sizes and different styles and I’ve landed on using the Classic Notebook – black softcover, XL, ruled pages. I’ve been using these notebooks for several years and I find I go through one notebook in about 10 months. I tend to crack open a new one in late summer and get near the end in late spring.

The size of the notebook is great and fits in my computer bag right next to my MacBook. It’s also big enough for meeting notes, checklists, planning and concepts. I use it most Sundays to take sermon notes too and I’ve found that I will fill most of two pages for one sermon so I’m able to go back years later after hearing a message and review my notes from that day.

But why paper? Why not stick to digital? Great question.

There is something really powerful about putting pen to paper when you’re capturing ideas. The act of writing notes, sketching ideas, getting a list out of your head and onto a page not only helps you be more productive but also helps you remember what it is you’re writing down.

The system I’ve developed is to begin with analog – write things down, take notes, get a list – and then move it to digital. Get it on a calendar, type up some notes, start moving on some action items.

So what am I changing?

After years of running strong with this productivity system (and giving pretty much every app and digital tool out there a solid run for its money!) I’m making a change. The scope of my job is changing and I’m taking on some new life adventures (more on that soon!) so I’m feeling like I need an extension of my existing system to help me manage some of the extra work that’s coming.

Last week I bit the bullet and bought Things for Mac and iPhone and have started digging into the incredible functionality of this app as part of my existing system.

Why Things? I love the simplicity and straightforwardness of the app. I love their focus in being a single platform and in helping people achieve their goals. I love that the app is designed for the device, even though it is pricey and adds to the cost.

After a week of learning, exploring and checking out a ton of content online showing how other people have created workflows, I’m really satisfied with Things and I can really see how this is going to help me be more productive, keep me moving forward on more projects and help me accomplish my goals. That’s a win!

I’ll be posting more about this in the future, how I’m continuing to develop this productivity system and how it might help you in your own productivity as you grow in leadership.

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