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10 Reasons Paper is The Most Flexible Productivity Platform

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10 Reasons Paper is The Most Flexible Productivity Platform

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    Lifehack’s theme for April is productivity without power. I don’t know about you but those words instantly bring one word to mind: paper. Whether it’s a Moleskine, index cards, a regular notebook or just loose-leaf, paper can be one of the most flexible tools in your arsenal. Let’s take a look at ten ways you can use paper yourself.

    Hipster PDA

    Here’s the thing you always know is going to be mentioned when an article’s title combines the words “paper” and “productivity” — it’s the classic Hipster PDA. Merlin Mann came up with the idea in 2004 when he got sick of carrying his Palm V around. Essentially, the “device” intends to replicate the organizational functions of a PDA without the electricity and is made from index cards.

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    Capturing Memory Leaks

    Often termed ubiquitous capture, there are a gazillion powered options for capturing ideas, forgotten tasks and other memory leaks in one of those “oh no!” moments. Nothing really does beat pen and paper, though — it won’t disappear when there’s no power or crash and freeze before you can hit the Ctrl+S. Paper is easily accessible and reliable. Unless, of course, you mix coffee, children and small spaces.

    Brain Dump

    In my mind, there’s something demanding about an empty word processor window, but something freeing about a blank sheet of paper. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I spend a heck of a lot of time working in word processors, but when I need to sweep my mind and get all the loose ends down the easiest, fastest, and most comprehensive way involves paper. I can empty my brain organically with lines and free association and all that literary-hippy stuff, rather than facing the cold, harsh linearity of the word processor.

    Task Lists

    I have always found that the most effective task lists for a one-day timeframe are paper-based. While I’ll use software to manage tasks in the greater scheme of things, my day’s plan of action is always mapped out on paper — at least those days where I’m reasonably effective are! You can read a bit more about my method of doing things here, and I strongly urge everyone to consider trialing this method. Task management software is so ubiquitous these days that many people don’t even give paper a week or two’s chance.

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    DIY Planner

    Here’s a resource that deserves a section of its own: DIY Planner. This website hosts a plethora of printables for all sorts of things — productivity, writing tools, psychology, and more. Unfortunately it can be a bit tough to separate the printables from the articles (not that there’s anything wrong with the articles, but sometimes you just want to get straight to the goodies). Despite that, it’s still worth a good look-through. Sure, you need a computer and a printer in the first place so it’s not exclusively powerless. Just make sure to stock up before the power grid explodes!

    Flash cards

    Every now and then we need to memorize things. Whether you’re learning some vocabulary in a new language or the lines in your presentation, sometimes the old-fashioned flash card method is the way to go. While there are apps for the computer and most phones that do this it can be simply more convenient to whip out a stack of cards in your wallet when you’re out and about. Why waste those idle moments?

    Idea Generation

    When my main income source was freelance writing, every couple of weeks I’d run dry on ideas. When you’re writing for more than fourteen hours a day it’s not hard to do at all. So I’d schedule a block of time every two weeks to sit down with a pen and one of those large drawing notebooks (like a Moleskine but with the wire binding) and brainstorm enough ideas to last a few weeks, and sometimes a month or two. I always kept the excess in an emergency reserve in case I came up dry two weeks later.

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    As I mentioned when I wrote about brain dumping, paper doesn’t have to be as linear as a word processor, so it’s that much easier to come up with more ideas on paper just by drawing lines and creating strange associations between ideas.

    Organize Contacts

    You could use an old-fashioned address book and put it by the phone. You could keep regular print-outs for everyone in your computer-based contact manager plus notes and client histories in a binder, since if your only backup of your digital address book was accidentally wiped you could be out of business.

    Or you could organize your contacts by throwing every business card you ever receive into a binder. Pretty cool, eh?

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    Organizing Your Family Life

    A whole lot of information flows through the family home. Important information from your doctor, permission slips to sign for the kid’s school, family events and birthdays to remember, the list goes on. Unclutterer offers an excellent paper-based idea to help you keep your home life as organized as your work life: the central home binder.

    A Funnel for Your Car

    We can’t finish this list without including one of the most common uses for paper that has persisted for decades.

    Well, not really — I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I do end up trying one day since our car is so poorly stocked; Brett Kelly of Cranking Widgets brings us the index card funnel.

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    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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