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When a Paper Planner Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

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When a Paper Planner Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

There are a lot of elegant tools for your OS and online that help you keep track of all your commitments, projects, tasks, goals, checklists, etc. Each of them have their own set of awesome features as well as their weaknesses.

I remember around a year ago when I was lost in the sea of productivity applications (if you have been there yourself, I totally feel for you). This mostly happened because I would find an app that I would like a lot and then find one or two things that it just couldn’t handle in my workflow. Because of that I played around with a ton of productivity applications and wasted a lot of my time procrastinating on projects.

Here is what I found

There is no perfect productivity, todo list, or Getting Things Done application for everyone.

Sorry.

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But wait, before you leave and go Google something like “best GTD app -lifehack.org”, I have to tell you that there is one tool that led me to find a productivity application that worked perfect for me.

My travels through the sea of endless list making apps led me back to where I started my journey with productivity and Getting Things Done: pen and paper.

Why it works

    There are a lot of things that paper doesn’t have that digital tools do including ubiquitous search, automated repeats, nesting of tasks, quickly changing lists and due dates, reminders, etc. But it does have one thing over digital tools that makes it one of the best ways to start being productive; unlimited flexibility.

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    If I want to take a note about a certain task in a digital tool, I have to invoke some sort of option in the system to say that I want to make that note. I type the note, and if the system is good, it will save it automatically. Otherwise I have to tell it to save the note about the task.

    With paper and pen, I locate the task and write something near it. Or, hell, even on top of it if I want.

    Paper planners work because they are flexible and with that flexibility eventually comes an awareness of how you work your productivity system, not how it works you.

    There is nothing to learn really (that is if you aren’t implementing GTD or some other productivity system) and you can start with the tool immediately.

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    This doesn’t have to be permanent

    I was so against using paper after using digital tools for a number of years. But what it came down to was that I needed to re-learn how to create and use a system. Paper is awesome for this because it helps you identify precisely what you need (as well as the things you don’t need at all) and helps you concentrate more on organizing and checking things off of your todo lists rather than figure out the exact taxonomy for your project on saving the world.

    When you fiddle with your tools you aren’t saving the world, you are fiddling.

    As you gain a better understanding of what your tools need to do to facilitate your workflow, you can start to see which digital systems can match that feature specification.

    Transitioning from paper to digital

    Now that you have figured out what you need in a tool and what you don’t at all need in your productivity system, you can start your search for a digital tool and transition to it. That is if you want to.

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    I have met a lot of people that are just as, if not more productive with a paper and pen than I am with OmniFocus on my two Macs, iPhone, and iPad. I believe that it has a lot to do with them being very intimate and close with their system, where as a digital tool can feel somewhat sterile and binary.

    The easiest way to transition is to start dumping your paper planner’s contents straight into your new tool and set it up relatively close to what already have. If you use a bunch of different lists for each area that you do your work in (contexts) and also a list of all your projects and reference materials, make sure that your desired digital tool can handle it.

    Slow down to speed up

    Paper may not be the most powerful productivity tool you can get your hands on, but it sure will show you exactly what you need and don’t need in a productivity system to make it work for you.

    I spent a good 3 months working with a paper planner through college and a full time job at the same time. It was annoying to have to rewrite things every once in a while, but it made me realize exactly what I needed in a productivity tool and helped me stop spinning my wheels trying to find the perfect digital tool.

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    Sometimes we have to use the most basic tools, understand how are productivity system is supposed to work, and then make it work with a decent digital tool that fits our needs.

    If you are roaming around in the digital todo list and productivity tool jungle, give yourself a break, grab a crappy notebook and start getting some work done.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

    How to Beat Procrastination: 29 Simple Tweaks to Make 5 Project Management Tools to Get Your Team on Track To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System Design Is Important: How To Fail At Blogging 7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively 6 Unexpected Ways Journaling Every Day Will Make Your Life Better

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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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    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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