Modern technology really is a wonderful thing. It gives us all manner of affordable gizmos and gadgets to help us manage every element of our lives and get more stuff done.

Yet when it comes to getting more stuff done effectively and to the best standard possible, there’s one set of tools we often over-look; the humble pen and paper.

In praise of paper

It goes without saying that paper is much cheaper, doesn’t suffer too much damage should you drop it on the concrete and doesn’t require batteries or chargers, but they present less obvious advantages too:

Sure, technology provides us with lots of useful, productive tools, but it also provides e-mail, social networks, oh-so-hilarious videos of piano-playing felines and a host of other distractions that otherwise keep us from creating our best work.

The only thing a notepad ever gave us was a blank canvas on which to store thoughts, make notes and create masterpieces.

Distraction free

This very article began life as a basic idea scrawled in a pocket-sized notebook en route home from dinner one evening before being expanded, tweaked and crafted into two rough drafts on a legal pad back at the dining table.

Eventually, when all thoughts were nearly organised and I had an article I was happy with, I typed it up and here it sits before you.

Saving time

Was that more work than heading straight to the computer and hacking at the keyboard until I had something close to a competent piece?

Yes and no.

Okay, so my drafts took me longer to write than if I’d typed them, fully-formed and almost perfect into a word processor, but the honest truth is that had I been at the computer during first-draft, I would have spent just as much time browsing through blogs, tweeting and generally wasting time on unproductive things as I would actual writing.

In the long run then, I saved myself some time and found it easier to enter a state where I was completely focussed on producing the best possible work I could.

“Sometimes I would rather hang upside down in a bucket than write.” - Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

No matter how much we try to tell ourselves that we’re 100% motivated and productive 100% of the time, we all have those days when, just like Douglas Adams, the last thing in the whole world that we feel like doing is the task at hand.

No matter how disciplined we may think ourselves, technology offers such an abundance of distractions that it’s sometimes too much to resist temptation and indulge in those distractions.

Even when we’re motivated enough to get on with the job, sometimes the very process of working at a computer, nothing more than hitting a buttons and inputting data, can thwart the creative process.

Because of this, ideas don’t come as freely, and that completely productive state of working takes a little while longer to reach.

Before we go any further, it’s probably worth pointing out that what you’re reading isn’t the inane ramblings of an out-of-touch old man with a gripe against ‘all this newfangled cyberspace stuff’ just because he doesn’t understand it.

I adore technology. I adore it because it’s portable, convinient, accessible. I adore it because it lets me work from anywhere in the world, and I adore it for all the many wonderful things I can’t do without it.

Though the one thing I can’t do with technology, is think, brainstorm and create half as well as I can when faced with a blank sheet of paper.

Flow states

There’s something about that blank canvas, devoid of distractions and ready to be filled with ideas, that enables a faster entry into what psychologists call the Flow state; that feeling of being fully absorbed in your work, completely energized and so focused on the task at hand that nothing can take you from what you’re doing until you’ve achieved what you set out to do.

You may not call it Flow, you may call it ‘being in the zone’ or use some other term entirely, but the point is that you’re likely to reach that most productive and satisfying state much faster as you feed off the energy created by dragging your pen across a blank sheet of paper than you are simply inputting data into a machine.

You don’t even have to be doing anything particularly creative either.

Having experimented with both technology and paper-based products for all areas of my life, including creating to-do lists, planning projects, personal finance work and just about anything that requires me to get stuff out of my head and onto some form of page, I’ve found that the ideas I have come quicker, and are more inspired and defined than I ever had bashing buttons on a keyboard.

Of course, it would be quite absurd to encourage you to replace your Ipad with a notepad forever more; we wouldn’t be talking right now were it not for technology. Though if you want to create your best work in an environment free from distractions that allows you to quickly and effortlessly reach your Flow state, laying the laptop aside and picking up a sheet of paper may just be what you need.

(Photo credit: Notebooks via Shutterstock)

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