A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with Scott Adams, the creator of the "Dilbert" cartoon series, as well as a best-selling author, media pundit, and entrepreneur.

At one point we began talking about productivity, and Scott shared with me one of his "secrets" (my word, not his) when it comes to getting things done.

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What does a cartoonist know about productivity?

"Dilbert" is one of the most successful and prolific cartoon strips of all time. It runs in more than 2,000 newspapers (in 65 countries and 25 languages!), has been syndicated since 1989, and is referred to as "the most photocopied, pinned-up, downloaded, faxed, and e-mailed comic strip in the world."

Now here's the cool part:

Adams spends just 25 percent of his working time on "Dilbert." That's it, one-quarter of his time.

(Can you imagine getting your work done in 25 percent of the time it takes you now?)

This leaves him the rest of his time to do other things (like write books and work on his new stealth startup). It also keeps him from getting burned out like many other cartoonists who draw full-time.

How can he get so much done without spending a ton of time? Good systems and something he calls "the Farmer's Approach."


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What does a farmer know about productivity?

To help me understand, Adams talked about how his mom grew up on a small dairy farm and, when you're trying to run a farm, everything is physical, and it's imperative to make the most-efficient use of your energy.

From feeding, herding, and milking cows, to planting fields and harvesting your hay...everything requires some type of physical effort or manual labor.

Because of this, Adams says, "Everything was about minimizing effort. It was all about efficiency."

Your number one goal was to find the simplest way of doing things, so you didn't expend all your energy on just one task.


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"... C'mon... c'mon... c'mon... STOP!"

Have you ever helped someone move and helped them back into a parking spot?

Most people (myself definitely included) will simply waive the driver back while saying "...C'mon...c'mon...c'mon..." before issuing a sudden and abrupt "STOP!"

And then you keep repeating this until the person finally gets it (after about five or six times.)

Not very efficient, right? But it's what we all do.

Yet his uncle (a farmer) said a more efficient way to do this was to hold your hands so they're about a foot apart, and then close them as the person is backing up the vehicle so the driver can visually see how much room they have left to go. Adams says, "You can't top that because it's the most efficient, simplest communication, and everything on the farm was looking for that, cause that meant survival."

In other words, when you're on a farm, wasted time and effort could be the difference between earning enough to support your family for the entire year and not. "You get up at 4 and you're going to bed at 8 to get everything done," sys Adams. "An extra hour to fix your wagon that ran into a post, that isn't going to happen."


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Don't add -- hack away.

The legendary Bruce Lee once said, "It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials."

Forget about trying to make things more complex and figuring out what you can add to your day. What can you hack away?

Adams follows this same simple ideology -- what he sometimes refers to as a "reflex for simplicity" -- when he's creating his "Dilbert" cartoons.

  • He uses a Wacom digital drawing device so he can draw right on the screen, saving him the time of having to do the same drawing twice.
  • He uses a three-panel cartoon versus four because "people don't know the difference" and it's less work and just as effective.
  • He developed a "simple drawing style" that involves typically not creating a background because having fewer things to draw means less time spent drawing.
  • He uses larger text than a lot of other comics because it's easier to read, something he's learned that older readers like, and cuts down on overly complex and long copy..


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More productivity secrets.

Adams also works on his cartoons right away because "I can do in half an hour what would take me three hours if I had afternoon brain" and got distracted by other things.

Additionally, to help him come up with ideas, he uses real-life events, bringing in things that have happened in other areas of his life and sharing them in the cartoon, so he's not sitting there wondering what to draw about.

Basically, Adams is constantly asking himself, "What's the simplest way to do it?"

Putting it into action.

Want to apply the Farmer Approach to your own life? Here's all you need to do:

Find the simplest and most efficient way to get things done. Just because you've always done something one way, or it's the way "everyone" does it, doesn't mean it's the most efficient.

"Every solution to every problem is simple. It's the distance between the two where the mystery lies."
- Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant

What can cut out of your work day? What are the things you spend time doing that aren't really helping you progress,?

And if there's something you're doing that is currently taking up a lot of time, is there any way to streamline it and make it simpler, more efficient?

Just imagine what will happen when you make your work flow simple and efficient.

Better yet, imagine how you're going to spend the 75 percent of your time that you're going to free up!


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