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When a Paper Planner Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

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.

    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.

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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