Tweets of the Day

Paper v Pixels

I’ve tried so many different kinds of organizational software, that it’s become a bit of a standing joke in my family. Over the course of my ministry I’ve probably spent a small fortune on various programs and Apps that have promised to get me organized and efficient.

And I’ve now come full circle, because I’m returning to paper. There’s just something about the physical act of writing something down with a real pen on real paper that increases ownership, responsibility, and accountability – whether it’s the daily to-do list or personal banking.

Software promises more efficiency, but it’s just too easy to scan the debits with the eye and have no real sense of spending, or to have the to-do list hanging out of sight somewhere in the digital ether and nothing is ever done!

When I have to write out what I spend every day, and when I have to re-write my to-do list every evening, it makes a much greater impression and forces me to take certain actions. Put simply, paper produces more guilt than pixels! Good guilt, though.

But what kind of paper system? For project management and to-do lists, I’ve not come across anything as simple and effective as Scott Belsky’s Action Method as outlined in Making Ideas Happen. It can be broken into three main parts: Action Steps, References, and Backburner Items.

Action Steps

  • Treat every idea as a project (“ideas” also include things like personal finances, organizing a birthday party, re-arranging the furniture).
  • Break each project into action steps beginning with a simple action verb (e.g. write letter to John, pay gas bill, etc.).
  • Write it down or it won’t register.
  • Prioritize your top 5 projects, and then prioritize the important and the urgent to maintain incremental progress and momentum.


  • Non-actionable project-related material that you may want to refer to in the future (notes, manuals, minutes, etc).
  • Review regularly to make sure you are not hoarding unnecessary paper.

Backburner List

  • Not actionable today but may be in the future (ideas without a budget, something you want to do sometime).

How to organize all this? Belsky suggests a folder with your project name on it. The Action Steps are then attached to the inside cover to keep them as prominent as possible for daily review and implementation. The Backburner List is attached to the inside of the back cover, and in between are the References.

Some other hints from the book:

  • Get every action item out of your various Inboxes and into one of your projects.
  • Pick a regular time to review each day and plan for the next, and do it at that time consistently to make it stick.
  • Customize the method to suit you as “the more you enjoy your method, the more you will be committed to it.”
  • Use colorful, quality administrative materials because, as usability guru Donald Norman said, “attractive things work better.”
  • Pick five items each day that you will definitely focus on to complete.
  • Celebrate progress to maintain momentum.

There are some similarities with Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done, but this method is much simpler and more suitable for non-corporate types.

Although there’s still a learning curve in setting this administration up, and getting organized means less time for creative work, in the long run not only will more ideas happen, but more ideas will be generated because of the joy of seeing our “genius” moments turned into reality.

And yes, there is a software version of the Action Method, but I’ll be sticking with paper!

My previous posts on Making Ideas Happen:

Making Ideas Happen: 99% Perspiration
A Swear Word for Creative Types

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Tweets of the Day

Connected Kingdom Podcast: Social Media

Download here.

The Connected Kingdom Podcast is back after a long but not lazy summer break. In this episode, Tim Challies and I interview Nathan Bingham, Director of Internet Outreach at Ligonier Ministries and social media guru, about how Christians and churches can use social media for God’s glory.

If you’d like to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

A Swear Word for Creative Types


It’s a terrible word isn’t it.

Don’t dare mention it in the hearing of creative people.

In his research for Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky found not only that most creatives described themselves as messy or chaotic, but that the vast majority wore it as a badge of honor!

I once knew a Pastor like that, a “Conquistador of Chaos” as Julie Morgenstern would describe him. Procedures, systems, routines, filing, diaries and To-do lists were traitors and enemies to be kept out of that study at all costs!

While bureaucracy has sometimes suffocated good ideas, Belsky argues that “your approach to productivity largely determines your creative output. The way you organize projects, prioritize, and manage your energy is arguably more important than the quality of the ideas you wish to pursue.” [14]

Belsky uses a mathematical equation to prove his point:

Creativity x Organization = Impact.

100 Creativity x 0 Organization = 0 Impact

2 Creativity x 50 Organization = 100 Impact

But imagine if you were able to combine left-brain with right-brain to produce this sum:

100 Creativity x 100 Organization = 10,000 Impact

Well you don’t need to imagine, because there is such a company and it’s name is….Apple!

Surprising in a way isn’t it. Apple is usually associated with stunning innovation and beautiful design. But Apple is also consistently in the top 5 of Fortune 500 companies for such mundane matters as managing the supply chain.

Structure and organization are at least as important as idea generation if we are at all interested in execution and production. And we shouldn’t be surprised at this; after all, THE Creator is a God of order, not confusion (1 Cor. 14:33,40).

Belsky pleads with creatives (and that includes preachers, teachers, entrepreneurs, students, homemakers, etc.,) to have “a relentless bias toward action” in order to push any idea forward to execution, and quotes a number of successful creatives to back him up:

The truth is, creativity isn’t about wild talent as much as it’s about productivity (Robert Sutton, Professor at Stanford School of Engineering).

Seth Godin once said that the vast majority of the products or organizations he had built failed. “But,” he explained, “the reason that I’ve managed a modicum of success is because I just keep shipping.”

Jesse Rothstein, super-salesman at Proctor & Gamble and founder of Coach for America, has a secret: “Perseverance and a simple conviction that he adheres to with an almost religious fervor: he follows up like crazy.”

“I’m starting to believe that life is just about following up,” he told Belsky.

Rothstein’s brilliance lies with the fact that he always identifies the necessary actions for each project and then takes them (and enforces them) relentlessly. He always follows up until every action is done. [86].

See my Introduction to Making Ideas Happen here. Tomorrow we’ll look at Belsky’s Action Method, his simple organizational tool for helping us Make (more) Ideas Happen.