A jar with paper clips in and next to it
productivity

4 min read

How I Track My Progress with the Easy Gem Paper Clip Method

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I have been tracking my progress with the easy gem paper clip method, with it, I can stay productive and really visualize my growth. Inspired by the authors of two famous books: Atomic Habits and The Millionaire Fastlane.

The Inspirations

In the book called The Millionaire Fastlane the author MJ DeMarco advices the reader to start collecting change (money) in a jar every day, he says it has lots of advantages. I wanted to try this out, but I didn’t know where should I get so much coin. I could find a few laying all over in my room, but I needed more. There was no clear solution to how should I pile up that much of change, so I thought a few more days about it and eventually forgot it.

One day, I had to find something in the book Atomic Habits and suddenly the aha moment hit me. I remembered there was some kind of paper clip moving method. Immediately I browsed through the book and found the few paragraphs about it and read it with fascination. I knew this was the key for the collecting habit. The strategy James Clear wrote down was about counting for habits, for example if you want to do 100 pushups per day, each you do you move 1 paper clip from one side to another. James wrote an article about it where he goes deeper into this strategy, it is worth a read: How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy”.

So my new tracking habit was planned in my head thanks to these two books. All I needed was a jar and some paperclips.

Implementation of My New Habit

Excitement rose to the ceiling and I wanted to start my new habit from tomorrow, as quickly as I could, I found an empty jar in one of the kitchen cabinets and bought a pack of paper clips. Went home, placed my jar on my desk where I could see it well plus it is not in my way. Before going to sleep, I opened the pack and put one paper clip into the jar. Since then, I have followed this habit. My goal is to have the biggest pile possible, grow it drop by drop.

This habit requires very basic tools. We had a jam jar at home, so I used that, and the paper clips cost me about half a dollar. You can use your own things too. Instead of clasp use small rocks, instead of a jam jar, use some kind of bowl. I have two advice for tool alternatives:

top view of a jar which has paperclips in it
The first noticable pile of paper clip in my jar

Some rules should be laid out in order to use the full potential of the habit. These formed on the fly for me:

  1. Before adding plus one point I decide if I deserve it, ask: “Was this a productive day? Did this day radically bring me closer to my goals?“. For me, one example for a well deserved day could be: went to the gym, read my book, coded a feature on my blog site, wasted almost no time on watching videos.
  2. I can only drop one into the container at the end of the day. Anything can happen throughout the day, I can really mess up my day, and then I don’t deserve it.
  3. No counting, they are in the jar, I can see it visually how the pile grows. Counting can lead to negative outcomes.
  4. Going back in time and adding one because I forgot yesterday is not allowed. If I forgot that means it did not worth adding one. Next time I have to remember it, after all this is a routine before sleep, it is not that hard.

Experience

I have been using it for a few months, it has positive affects on me. I can see my progress better, and I think every day if I really did the work or not. If I did not go hard today I can try again tomorrow.

Give a try to the easy gem paper clip method! In the beginning you can use some of my rules, but I really encourage you to form your own rules.


I hope I could give you a new method for tracking, or perhaps you already knew James’s original strategy, and now you’ve got some inspiration about how you can transform it.

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