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Backing away (slightly) from being paperless

By March 30, 2012culture, web-tech

Handwritten stuff is helpful (and I say this despite being a “paperless fanatic”

I’ve been completely paperless for a really long time? How long? Since roughly 11110101001 or since about 1984 if you don’t speak digital. My life is almost completely devoid of paper. I reached a point where the only paper that came into my life was mail delivered through a door slot (where my terrier Buddy would then promptly shred it with his teeth).

Recently, however, I’ve taken to purchasing paper and writing on paper notebooks. I embarked on this process somewhat tentatively, mostly experimenting to see if it was helpful or detrimental. Short answer: it helps greatly in certain kinds of thinking and task management.

I first became curious about revisiting paper when I noticed that several serious techies that I read (follow or otherwise pay attention to) were talking about their Moleskines or their Field Notes. It was hard to get used to the idea of using paper for important ideas, but eventually it clicked. Once I “got it” things started to tumble into place.

I found that incubating ideas was easier, and more productive, when I used paper. Reviewing those ideas (at least the embryonic ones) seemed easier by using paper. There just seems to be something about putting pen to paper that lets ideas come out more readily. Is it because that’s our brains work? Or is it because that’s how the brains of people like me work (e.g. those who learned to write in cursive and have done so for many years)?

This article sheds some light I suppose, but the main proof for me is that using paper seems to enable a certain kind of expressiveness. True, I quickly get nervous if I accumulate too much paper. But I know how to deal with that problem easily, so I am keenly aware of when to shift things over to the digital realm.

One thing that I’ve found works best with paper is planning my day, and keeping track of things. I use Omnifocus to organize my to-dos, and other tools to capture general information (e.g. Notational Velocity and Evernote). Omnifocus is my “can’t live without it” resource for managing my tasks, and it syncs to all my devices. But I’ve learned to shift away from it in the daily planning.

I use Omnifocus to quickly review my list, but when it comes to planning my day I use a plain old to-do list. At first I used a simple notebook, but I recently discovered these tools and they’re even better. Bottom line: for me, writing things down and then keeping track of my daily list is more satisfying when done with paper.

I wonder if that’s true for other digirati who have managed to become largely paperless?

P.S. If you want a practice optimized for remote work & virtual collaboration, get this 24-page guide.

One Comment

  • Bill Wilson says:

    I am slowly working my practice towards a paperless standard, but I too find that some things are done best with paper and pen. One reason I think paper and pen works so well is that the pen forces our brain to slow down a bit. We can type faster than we can write with a pen, so when we use a pen it makes us proceed at a more deliberate and deliberative pace.

    I also use OmniFocus as my main task tracker, but the daily to-do list goes on 3×5 cards that have the lines turned 90 degrees so you can write in portrait mode rather than the usual 3×5 landscape mode. Levenger sells these, and they are nicer than the cheap cards you find at the local office supply store.

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