Simplicity in Action: Diane

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.


Piles of paper, too much stuff, and out-of-date filing systems can adversely affect not only your personal well-being, but also decision-making, innovation, and productivity. Although each workspace and work style is unique, there are certain things that can benefit many.

Here are my 10 (non-digital) favorites for simplifying the workday and feeling more in control.

  1. Kitchen Timer –  one of the very best tools to keep you focused; just pick your least favorite task, set a timer for 20 minutes and see what happens
  2. Post 3 Daily Must-Dos – write (pen and paper!) and post the 3 things you must get done today; this keeps you focused and moving in the right direction
  3. Inspiration – quotes, art, photographs; work with what you have, if you don’t love your workspace yet, add something that will inspire you and make you smile
  4. Paper Control – at the very least, have an in-basket to collect papers entering your office (preferably a small basket so you will have to tend to it regularly)
  5. Vision Board – a great visual to help you focus on your dreams and priorities
  6. Random Acts of Kindness – these are the best and everyone wins; we all know that happiness is a critical advantage. If you’re happy, you perform better
  7. Storage – make room for change; a place for everything and everything in its place
  8. Take Guilt-free Breaks – clear your mind; eat healthy; take care of yourself
  9. Form a Team – a mastermind group; accountability partner; mentor; hire someone to do the things you don’t want to do
  10. Visual reminders are important – for some people, out of sight out of mind is very real; give yourself visual cues and keep current project folders in a desktop file organizer

The kitchen timer, vision board, and mastermind group have provided me with the most measurable results. My mastermind group meets every other week for an hour and a half; we end each session by listing 3 goals to accomplish before our next meeting.

My favorite random act of kindness this year was not one of mine, but one my daughter did at college. She and a friend put together a dining hall tray with treats and small gifts and a big anonymous thank you note and sent it on the tray conveyor to the kitchen staff responsible for cleaning the dishes.

There is a big difference between busy work and good work, and by structuring your space and your day differently you will be getting more of the right work done.

Read more from Diane about creating your best work environment at Positive Workspace.




  • I will be announcing a small, special Spark & Tinder live session for new-ish bloggers in Salt Lake City coming in September. If you are interested, email me. 
  • The live webinars for How to Create a Microbusiness that Matters start Tuesday, August 27th. Anyone that buys the course is invited for a no-holds barred conversation about my work, your work and your future work.


  1. says

    Diane, I love that these are non-digital! Your daughter and her friends must have made those people’s day. What fun!

    I love the kitchen timer and use my microwave for this purpose. It really works. The stove timer is even better because it forces me to get up and turn it off, so I’m then able to take a guilt-free break with my mastermind team which consists of my husband and me. We head out for an afternoon tea.

    Your group sounds delightful, organized, and beneficial to all! Thank you for sharing your tips!

    • Diane Elkins says

      Tammy – I feel like one of the few remaining fans of non-digital productivity solutions, reading your first comment made me so happy! I love your idea of using a timer that forces you to get up to turn it off – and how nice to have tea with your husband to look forward to for a break!

  2. Bill M says

    Nice list.

    I do way too much #2 and have no #7. I’m real good with #4 too. I pile papers everywhere!

    • Diane Elkins says

      The piles of paper are a big problem for all of us – they just keep growing and growing. Using an in-basket on the smaller side and keeping your filing categories broad – make it easier for filing and finding papers.
      How many to-dos do you write down daily? What seems to be a good system for you with regards to a to-do list?

  3. says

    I have the tendency to overlook the importance of inspiration. While I am not in a particularly creative field (yet), I do need the occasional break to recharge. I am more likely to keep my nose to the grindstone, surely at the expense of my productivity and enjoyment of my job. I know that a small break to get some fresh air, chat with a coworker, or even just do a few stretches while glancing at inspirational photos or quotes such as you mention would give me a boost. Thanks for the reminder :-)

    • Diane Elkins says

      Feeling like you have to be productive all the time is something I’m guilty of as well! It’s a tricky balance to find – but the timely and occasional break is both energizing and inspiring.

  4. says

    I have never seen a “vision board” before. I had a board on the wall in front of my desk when I was a student, but that was merely a wall that was filled with to-dos and receipts and maybe a picture or two, but more of a random collection of things. Your vision board looks really inspiring and makes me wanna have one too :-)

  5. Diane Elkins says

    Jessica – I love vision boards! Making them is as much fun as the inspiration you gain from them all year. A friend and I spent a weekend creating our boards and talking about our plans for 2013 – they help keep me focused on my goals and priorities. Let me know if you end up making one – I would love to see it!

  6. says

    Thanks for this! I think I’m going to need to start writing out my top to-dos. With so many things to look at on my phone, sometimes the things I need to get done get lost.

    A kitchen timer! Brilliant! That would be perfect for both my 3 year old and I. I’ve tried to use my phone before for quick 5 minute cleanups but she doesn’t understand the concept. I think a physical kitchen timer is just the ticket.

    • Diane Elkins says

      Very cute idea to use the timer with your daughter! I think it will add a fun element to the cleanup – and at that age she’ll even have fun setting the timer. The habit of writing and posting (where you’ll see it throughout the day) 3 daily must-dos has been a tremendous help to keeping me on track – I hope it works for you!