The folks over at DIYPlanner.com are really into paper, and because I wrote a piece for them, it caused me to really analyze what I do in my life with paper, and what I do electronically. I’ve come to realize that in my case, there’s a time for paper and a time for a more electronic means.

MindMapping

I am a fiend for the process of using mind maps for visual thinking. I draw out little mind maps on paper when making a decision, such as whether or not to purchase a new piece of computer gear. I use mind maps to help understand the process flow of things in my group, which helps because I can often see things through these drawings that I don’t catch when starting with a linear, list-based mode.

And in this case, I use paper for the right-brained part of mind-mapping, but then I use MindManager6 by MindJet to get the map into something more useful and something I can pass on to others.

Lists

I have two flavors of lists: things I might need to remember for a short shelf-life, like a few days, and then things I might want as reference for a period of time, such as library books and movies that people recommend to me in the course of a week. For the short-term lists, I use paper, because it’s so much faster and easier to whip out my handy pad of paper and write a note than it is to struggle with the current state of PDA technology out there. Sure, I can use the Graffiti language, and yes, I’ve heard of Tablet PCs, but I can sit on my notepad, bend it, mangle it, and it still willingly accepts and instantly recognizes my writing.

In the case of Getting Things Done, I use 37 Signals’ Backpack software. I use this because it gives me a stronger, more permanent record of the things I’ve got left to do, and the things I’ve completed. Having this available in electronic format lets me move around tasks and priorities without muddying up a paper list.

Project Management

I’m not sure who’s doing this with paper formats, but more power to you. I use strictly digital means to manage projects, because paper dies about as soon as you print it, and managing projects (with more than one person involved) is a very fluid endeavor. I need something electronic and updatable.

Drawing

I love drawing and illustrating, and I’ve got a graphics tablet attached to my Mac, but I’ve recently come to accept that I get much better art out of my efforts if I start with paper, scan the illustration into a program, and then do the finishing work online. No matter how sensitive my graphics tablet is, there’s something much more controlled in my ability to put lines to paper. All my painting on the other hand, is 100% digital. I can’t stand cleaning brushes, getting charcoal out of my clothes, etc. I much prefer electronic formats for the messier media.

In Review

So in the short examples above, you start to see a theme. When it involves something a little more right brain or creative, I tend to use the paper format of a process first, but then convert eventually to digital. If it’s something more left-brain or project/GTD oriented, I prefer to use digital tools. There’s a hybrid ground in there, as well, and in that way, I imagine it’s like lots of things in life. Sometimes it’s easier to do one, and other times, the other.

What are your preferences? How do you use paper in your day? Or do you?

–Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com].

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