Productivity: Getting Back to Paper

It did not happen overnight. But eventually I woke up and was using plain paper to organize my to-dos. Again. Paper was a medium those 10 years ago when I was introduced to GTD. After using it for 3 weeks now, I’m convinced that paper plays a critical role in your productivity system.

This article explains the major aspects of this transition. I will explain the main issues and start to explain how you can use paper again.

Inspiration

While I was browsing productivity articles on the web, I stumbled upon the article “Paper Based Markup Systems” (http://www.thecramped.com/paper-based-markup-systems/). Several methods suggest how to take notes effectively, using specific symbols and structuring methods. I especially liked the dash/plus system. It was simple, visually compelling, easy to use. I liked the idea of showing that you move to-dos. I liked the idea to define a tangible to-do list, and I liked the symbolic language to express the moving of to-do items between different lists.

And so I started to define the daily to-do list on paper again.

Slow Migration

At this time, much of my GTD system (next action lists, context lists, projects, goals) were completely in Wunderlist. I had a great workflow, felt productive and was working with great focus.

But there was something else. Small pain points that I was becoming more aware of. Most crucial was this. At some point, I needed to work on 4–6 projects every day. After a long day, it was very hard to remember what I was doing — although I used a to-do list all the day! Furthermore, I felt like spending too much time on organizing and ordering the lists, getting sure that each to-do is in the correct project.

I changed my workflow just a bit: A daily to-do list. All upcoming tasks, and the contexts and projects, stayed with Wunderlist. After two days I felt more productive and could remember what I was doing, even after very long days. Writing is very helpful to remember stuff.

Outlook

Paper is an altogether different medium. With paper, the limit is simple your imagination. You are free to choose which information you want to record, in which form, and how you connect it. You define your own workflow of how information is accessed and processed. You have this information always with you, in a tangible form.

And so I got back. To paper.

Sebastian

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