Analog system

My 3 Criticisms of Using UgMonk’s new ‘Analog’ Productivity System.

Is working from a to-do list better than working from a calendar? And what is the biggest mistake people will make when using this system?

Jason Chatfield
11 min readFeb 7, 2022


🎵 On the 12th day of Christmas, my fellow systems enthusiasts gave to me, the gift of Analog in a Pear Tree.🎵

(I don’t know why they had to hide it in a pear tree, but I was very grateful all the same.)

Being my best pals, they knew me well. They were aware I’d been gleefully noodling around with different systems for getting shit done as a freelancer over the past 18 years. This fancy new Analog system threw a minimalist, aesthetically pleasing and deceptively simple spin on the tradition of working from a To-Do List…

The Analog System
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I’ve written extensively about my system of getting a lot of shit done with minimal friction, bypassing willpower depletion, mental hurdles like Parkinson’s Law, Procrastination, Distraction and so on with much credit due to the work of Cal Newport, David Allen and James Clear among others.

A still from the “How-to” video for Analog.

It was heartening to see that the creator of the Analog system, Jeff Sheldon, had the same stack of books on his desk as me. He has done his homework. He can stay.

Based on the ‘how-to’ video for the system, it seems he also trialled using index cards to keep his work in check. He’s basically taken that concept, added a modification of the BuJo and GTD bullet-point systems, and made it look super pretty. I’m a fan.

L: On my desk before I got Analog R: Jeff’s video of what he used to use before Analog…

I’ve tried a BuJo, Index Cards, GTD systems, Pomodoro timers , TeuxDeux— the works. It seems like Josh has, too. Everyone’s different, so my brain is going to have its own bespoke system that might not match yours, but this is how I went using UgMonk’s new Analog system.

Here’s how it works:

1. You separate all your shit into 3 different cards: Today, Next, and Someday.

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2. You manage the most pertinent 10 into the Today, put the other things onto Next, then put Hopes and Dreams for ‘when you get time’ on the Someday card.

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3. While you’re going through them, you mark them as in progress, complete, delegated, or carried forward. You can mark things as ‘appointments’ also, to distinguish them from the other to-do’s.

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(Oh, and if things pop up or you need to make call notes you flip over the Today card and capture it there.)

I’ll take your call anytime, Josh.

4. You finish all of the tasks you ever want to do in life and you die happy with an empty to-do list.

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The three criticisms (with solutions) I have of this system are:


The recommendation to add 10 things of equal value to get done to your Today card is unrealistic and will only lead to frustration: Yes, there are often more than 10 things to be done, and sometimes you have 6 jobs and 3 phonecalls, and 2 zoom meetings, but I would recommend ruling a line under the 6th point and having the rest as ‘if you get time’ tasks. Nothing else is allowed to get done until those first 6 tasks are complete: This is known as the Ivy Lee method.

Bonus points: Use David Allen’s GTD method and put your MIT (Most Important Task) at the top, and don’t attempt anything below it until that one task is done. Make it the first thing you do when you sit down to work — before email, before replying to texts, but not before coffee…

Finishing 10 things in a day is a very lofty goal. Even for the more focused and disciplined individual. Life happens. Emails come in. Phone calls and texts with urgent requests come in: Real life is more complicated than writing down things you want to get done and ticking them all off. Even with the option of migrating tasks to your “Next” cards, the risk of this system leading to a sense of overwhelm is very high.

Note: One hack I’ve been using to great effect is flipping over the card and using the dot matrix side to record any brain farts, reflexive google searches, or any other distracting thoughts or notions I’m having whilst in the middle of the task at hand.

The ability to be mindful of your brain’s distraction triggers is something very valuable for anyone who actually cares about finishing things. Meditation helps. So does bathing yourself in boredom once in a while to train your brain to withstand the discomfort of not having any stimulus for extended stretches of time.


Pick less things. Get them done without distraction.

Everyone gets distracted. Nobody is immune. But there are systems you can implement to ensure your productivity is minimally compromised:

— Prime your brain for the task at hand. if you’re going to be writing; read for 5 minutes beforehand. If you’re going to be drawing, shift gears by looking at art that inspires you. Priming is a very powerful tool to keep you in the right mindset to finish the task at hand.

— Design your environment for minimal distractions. ie. Have only what you need for the task at hand and nothing else. If need be, take yourself somewhere else to get a particular task done if you know you’ll be distracted in the space you’re in.

— If music, audiobooks or podcasts distract you, turn it off. Use noise-cancelling headphones with Brain.FM, or better: silence. Do this in blocks of 90 minutes or less. (The key: Take breaks. You’re not designed to focus for hours on end.) Remember, the greatest creative minds in history only worked on their craft for 3 hours a day. Yes, habit tethering (also known as Habit Stacking) can be helpful for boring tasks: ie. listening to pods, audiobooks etc. while you’re doing your invoicing or something monotonous, but if you really hang back and check yourself, you’ll notice you could be getting this stuff done in half the time. Reward yourself with the podcast at the end. Carrot and stick. Try it and see how good it feels.

— Know your triggers: if you think you’ll be tempted to check Twitter or Instagram on your phone, put it in a drawer on airplane mode until you finish the current task. If you think you’ll want to check Facebook mid-stream, use to block that website for a predetermined block of time. Or, you could be a baller and take the nuclear option of just deleting social media altogether.

Question: How many tabs do you have open right now? Why?

There are more things you can do if you want to go down this rabbit hole. Two good books I’d recommend are Deep Work by Cal Newport, and Indistractible by Nir Eyal.

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There’s still no measure of how long things should take: You might have 10 things on your list that will only take 5 minutes. Or maybe one task will take 8 hours, and the other 9 will take 4 minutes each. My “Work-from-a-calendar system” measures the ‘actual’ time things take and accurately replicates them for the next time you have to do them, with the addition of building in failsafes for Parkinson’s Law, distractions and procrastination.

Seeing your list of 10 things partially unfinished at the end of every day creates compounding anxiety that will do the opposite of what the system is meant to do: alleviate the stress and overwhelm of a seemingly bottomless list of shit you need to get done.

Far be it for me to just fling mud at pretty things without offering a solution — I have a hybrid alternative for this criticism:


If you must implement a written to-do list system and you want to use Analog you should do one of two things:

  1. Write down the amount of time you intend to take on the task in parenthesis next to each task. ie. Newsletter (15 minutes), Therapy (1 hour), Zoom with Santa (45 mins)
  2. Plan out your day on the calendar using the “Work-From-A-Calendar” system, and once you’ve established how much time you actually have in the day to do things (I almost guarantee you don’t have time for 10 different things to be started and completed), then punch them into your ‘Today’ card in order of priority/chronology.

I realise the migrate, delegate, in-progress and Next features of the system allow for tasks that are started but not completed, but I’m talking about realistic planning of time, energy, focus and output.

Oliver Burkeman’s book “Four Thousand Weeks” is an excellent crash course on time perception, and the ability to determine how long things actually take*, rather than the wishful thinking of hoping for 10 things to be checked off your Today list every day.
*See: Parkinson's Law


The “Someday” list
Hooboy… this is a big one.

Let’s start here: There are Four stoic practices that will really enhance the utility of the Analog system:

1. “Premeditatio Malorum”: When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. This meditation is the anticipation of setbacks and annoyances via other people you can’t control that will pop up throughout the day. (Write these on the back of the Today card, then add them to the Next card if they warrant it.)

2. “Amor Fati”: Loving Fate — Going with whatever happens and not trying to control every aspect of the events that take place hour-by-hour in your life.

3. “The Last Time”: You never get to know when the last time you read an article will be— With the exception of the terminally ill or suicidal, most of us will never get to decide when the last time we do something will be. You never get to know when the last time you speak to your mother will be. Call her. You could be washing the dishes and then think, “This could be the last time I ever wash a dish.” Believe me, this meditation can bring a rush of perspective that you might not be ready for. It is, however, very useful in helping you prioritize your life.

4. “Memento Mori — Arguably the most important of the 4: The reminder that we are all going to die. This is sort of an addendum to The Last Time. It might sound morbid, but it does offset the hedonic adaptation that brings us back into a sense of ‘mental homeostasis’, making us think that the things on our “Someday” card will get done in some imagined future where all of the variables for the task will be perfect, and everything else will be done.

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Hard Truth: Nobody dies with an empty To-Do list.

This may be the most important point I make in this post, and if you’re still reading at this point, thank you for sticking with me. The Analog system gives us the perfect opportunity to talk about this very crucial point:

There will always be more to do.

No matter how many “Today” cards you fill out and complete, there will always be a full “Next” card ready to replace it tomorrow.

The hedonic adaptation I mentioned above was a reference to the way we slip back into the daily current of life after being yanked from it momentarily.

You know that feeling you have when you walk out of the church after a funeral service? The thoughts that swirl in your head “How much time do I really have? He was only 3 years older than me. What am I doing with my life? I should really call my Dad. I’m wasting my days.”

Those very useful thoughts subside for most people after less than a week. The kids have to get their sports gear for this season, the cat has to be taken to the vet, the house needs to be cleaned, and the credit card for my phone autopay needs to be updated. Life sucks you back into the daily stream of thoughts and distractions that stop you from asking the real question:

“What should I be putting on my Today list?”

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“What should I be putting on my today list?”

  1. Here’s an idea; take a look at your “Someday” list. Ok, now look at the one thing on there that you’ve been “meaning to get to” for a long time — Something that would actually make you feel really good to do it (I mean the process of doing it, not just the feeling of marking it “done”).
  2. Now, look at your “Today” list. Do the mental arithmetic of assessing which of these things would actually result in you getting into serious trouble if you said “No” to one of them. Then replace that task with the task on your “Someday” list. The one you’ve been “meaning to get to.”

But I don’t have time! That task will take way longer than the one I said “No” to! — also I should be at work right now, not doing the thing on my “Someday” list. This is bullshit!”

Ok, take a step back, take a deep breath. Sip your coffee/take a valium.

It’ll take too long? Perhaps, but starting it will be better than leaving it to languish on your “Someday” list.
I can’t right now: If you’re at work, you’re on the clock. Start the ‘someday’ task the moment you clock off, whether that’s 5pm or 9pm. Too tired? Great excuse. You’re right. Netflix will be better than starting the task you’ve been putting off. What’s one more day? Also, the kids need to … etc. etc.


The items on your “Someday” list, should increasingly be on your “Today” list.

“You don’t have to swing at every pitch.”

~Warren Buffet

It’s important to realize that you do not have to be a people-pleaser and say “Yes” to every single request and opportunity that crosses your desk. Avoid procrastinating on the important work or making excuses to put off fulfilling things because ‘immediate’ things are taking up your time and attention.

Learning to say “No to the things on your to-do list that don’t serve anything outside of justifying your existence in a ‘job’ is the most valuable skill you’ll ever cultivate. (Yes, more valuable than overcoming distraction.)

In fair defence of the Analog system: They do have the “Someday” section for things that, for example, might be additional product ideas that could be executed down the track, or things that would be nice to do but not essential. My sense, though, is that people will put their literal hopes and dreams on their “Someday” cards, which is where they may live forever.

Life isn’t about filling up cards with to-do’s that endlessly stack up to justify your existence. It’s about never having a Someday list. Because there’s every chance that “Someday” may never come.

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Jason Chatfield

New York-based Australian Comedian & Cartoonist for the New Yorker. Obsessed with productivity hacks, the creative process, and the Oxford comma.