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Achieve Faster Flow States: Swap your iPad for a Notepad

Achieve Faster Flow States: Swap your iPad for a Notepad


    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Chris Skoyles

    Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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    Last Updated on February 15, 2019

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

    Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

    Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

    So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

    Joe’s Goals

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      Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

      Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

      Daytum

        Daytum

        is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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        Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

        Excel or Numbers

          If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

          What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

          Evernote

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            I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

            Evernote is free with a premium version available.

            Access or Bento

              If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

              Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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              You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

              Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

              All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

              Conclusion

              I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

              What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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