Mark Gilbert's Blog

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Going Minimal

I’ve been through a very odd transformation in the last three weeks.  The dramatic part of this transformation started with a small gift three weeks ago, but the roots of it go back years.

A little more than three weeks ago we held the third annual Kalamazoo X Conference, of which I am one of the organizers.  Mike Eaton, who wrangles all of the speakers and MC’s the event itself, gave each organizer a Moleskin notebook as a thank-you gift for helping organize this year’s conference.

Now, I’ve seen these notebooks, and I’ve known people over the years who have sworn by them, but I had never used them myself.  I’ve stuck with recycled scrap paper and legal pads over the years is because I didn’t think having all of my notes from ten different projects lumped into the same notebook was a good idea, and having to manage ten different notebooks seemed like a waste (of money and time).  So, single-sheets it was.

So, I have this lovely notebook, and some serious doubt as to whether I would use it.  But it got me thinking, and it didn’t take long for me to realize an interesting fact about what I usually did with those single-sheets of paper with notes from meetings on them: I would transcribe them into my digital organization system, Tasks.  Then I would file them away, and would very rarely look at them again.

Ok, so if I rarely needed to refer back to the original notes, what’s the harm in lumping all of them together into a single notebook?  So, the following Monday, I started using the Moleskin for my time tracking, meetings, and phone calls.  By Friday of that week, I was really enjoying the experience.

Now for the real transformation.

You see, for at least the last six or seven years, I’ve carried a laptop backpack with me between work and home.  And until a couple of years ago, I actually had a laptop in it.  For the last two years, though, I’ve had a desktop at work, but I’ve maintained the use of the backpack because it had my portfolio-with-legal-pad, pens, highlighters, gum, etc..  So, with a week of the Moleskin as my backdrop I asked “Why was I hauling this stuff back and forth to work?”  The Moleskin had taken over the functions of the portfolio, so I could leave that at home now. 

Hmm.  What else could I get rid of?  Would it be possible for me to stop carrying the backpack altogether?  The answer to the latter was “yes”.  The answer to the former was “a lot”.

I emptied the contents of my backpack onto my desk at home, and started picking through it, segregating it into four piles:

  1. Pile A was for stuff that I could just throw away.
  2. Pile B was for stuff that would be left at home.  (In going through this process, I found a couple of refills for my good pen that were more than 10 years old, still in their original packaging.  Yeah, it was time to clean out the backpack.)
  3. Pile C was for stuff that only ever used at work.  That stuff would go in with me on Monday and stay there.
  4. The last pile was for stuff that would need to travel to and from work daily.  My goal was to minimize this pile as much as possible, and in the end it consisted of my primary USB drive, my MP3 player, and the Moleskin.



Travel for the last two weeks has been weird downright surreal.  The USB drive and MP3 player go into my pocket.  All I carry is the Moleskin and my lunch.

I should have done this years ago.


May 23, 2011 - Posted by | General

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