I recently reawakened a relationship with an old flame of mine. For years, we’ve been on-again and off-again, since that time in college I thought I’d outgrown her. But we’re back together again, and she’s perfect. She’s silky smooth, reliable, and soaks up every word I say. And she’s currently wrapped in leather.
Her name is Paper.
See, I’m the type of person who needs to trick myself into working. I’d consider myself highly productive, but it’s not by nature. No, like many of us, I play games with my time, trying to make my calendar, my to-do lists and documents as fun as they can possibly be. Whether it’s my new favourite, the Pomodoro Technique, or the good old reliable Getting Things Done system, I’ve got an arsenal of anti-procrastination tools at my disposal that serve me well. And they need to be perfect.
Mind tricks, see?
I got hooked on these tricks and mind games by my good friend the photo editor back in 2007. He was always impeccably well-organised, and would constantly remind me of the editorial duties I had forgotten about several times during the course of the day. Eventually, I asked about the secret and he showed me how to make a list of projects and associated actions on the good old A4 pad. I’ve never looked back and am now a convert to the church of GTD.
Of course, this organization guru of mine soon purchased an iPhone, and when we talked again about the system months later, he showed me a selection of the shiny apps to help organise your life. Needless to say, when I purchased my own slice of the Apple smartphone pie, I eagerly downloaded the magic apps that would increase my efficiency 1000%. With gusto, I showed my purchases to my mentor. And he said:
Oh, those? I stopped using them ages ago. I prefer paper. Paper works.
…or something to that effect. I, of course, didn’t listen, and my productivity took a massive nosedive.
Scribbling is good
See, the problem with digital solutions is that they’re inflexible. They always have too many or two few features, or different options that don’t play well together. You might be able to view a project summary page, but probably not alongside its associated notes or support material on the same page. Hell, the supporting documents are probably on paper anyway. Maybe you’ve found the perfect program, but it doesn’t support one key feature of your workflow. Let’s face it; we all customise these systems a little. We’re all individual little snowflakes when it comes to efficiency.
I like scribbling in the columns. It makes my system better. My calendar needs arrows and circles to show related events and important appointments. I soak up visual info faster and more efficiently, and it’s far easier to edit and annotate.
I’m also more efficient when the key piece of organisational equipment I keep with me has blank pages for brainstorming and doodling. Ideas flow more freely: if you don’t believe me, grab a piece of A4 and start throwing down ideas now. I bet you’ll be surprised at how fluid it is compared to typing.
I’m actually using a Filofax I picked up in town for €25 now. It’s a simple, elegant solution, and so far I love it. It beats my previous number one paper tool, a flimsy and battered Moleskine, because it’s endlessly customisable. Sections can be reordered, added to or thrown away, and you can download or create custom pages, like they’ve done on DIYPlanner.com. I have to-dos (action lists) and projects (sorted alphabetically) at the front, followed by the calendar. It’s flawless so far. I might mix things up a bit in the coming weeks to experiment, but the compact ring binder format is so very useful for that very reason. If you’re not a fan of bulk, there’s an amazing compact GTD moleskine solution out there.
The best thing about the paper system for me is that i can relax more. It’s a constant, visible reminder that everything is safely recorded and not forgotten. I know my data is safe on my mobile device or in the cloud, but I don’t feel that it is. With a solid piece of kit, I don’t worry. And that’s worth anything.
Paper works. Some things, like contacts, work best on a smartphone for obvious reasons. But low-tech can be better, and often is. If you’re dissatisfied with your current system, give the old girl a ring. She’s just as steadfast as she always has been.