Go Analog For a Month

In Essays, Productivity

In 2013 I adopted Bullet Journal as my default organiser. The strange thing, for me, is that this was paper based. I was always quite proud to have gone completely paperless as soon as it was feasibly possible because I had a heck of a time ever finding something once I filed it away. Technology (to be honest – Evernote) allowed me to search through all my documents from a single place and also have them backed up to the cloud in case I lost my laptop. I couldn’t ask for more.

The only problem was this – I wasn’t any more productive paperless than I was with paper. In fact, I flipped from one document to another and I was less able to focus than before. This is most probably due to personal faults and habits of mine, but I know for a fact that I am not the only one. In the quest to become organised we jump from program to program, app to app, Pc to Linux to Mac and then back again. We spend more time getting organised and finding the “perfect” system than we spend actually doing stuff! The proof of this is the several thousand applications available today that are purely dedicated to to-do lists and organisation.

By going back to paper I found that I limited my choices but on the other hand I could do exactly as I wanted. I didn’t have to remember to save, to sync or to charge the batteries. My Moleskine planner is always with me and after a month I wondered what I was doing trying to get organised on the computer for all those years.

Now, I work in a fairly minimalist way on my Macbook Air & iMac and to this day I still try and keep my computers as simple as possible. It runs faster, I don’t have to spend time and money on upgrades I don’t need.

Just because the tools and ideas behind this system are simple, it doesn’t mean that you can do it without thinking. I think being productive is great, but it needs to be backed by a strong foundation of understanding what you actually want to achieve, and then setting short, medium, and long term goals.

Another trick I have found with A4 paper is for creative meetings. This works best with a maximum of 4 or 5 people. Give everyone a pencil and you have a stack of paper in the middle. Assign one person to begin writing down the ideas and discussions, in whichever format they wish. It can be a pro & con table, a mind map, a drawing, a bullet point list, a Venn diagram, it really doesn’t matter. After a short while, let someone continue writing. If you fill up the piece of paper, simply place it at the bottom of the pile and continue on the top sheet.

The result of the meeting is that everyone can concentrate on the thinking and discussion, while only one person is ever preoccupied with putting anything down on paper. The cool thing is that everyone gets a turn at writing and putting ideas down on paper, and the same idea will be drawn, sketched or fleshed out several times by different people. This allows the group to find unusual solutions to common problems. The only chore is that someone then needs to collate all these sheets and turn the ideas and conclusion in text format. In my company we use an online collaboration tool, Basecamp, to stay organised and so we write all the notes in text forms (with attached images, of course) on there so everyone can see the previous discussions.

It’s also quite fun 🙂

I’m not advocating that you give up whatever system you have and go back to pen and paper, but I think there is a strong case for choosing one aspect of your digital life and going analog for a month. I think a month is just long enough to form a new habit, and not too long to make it a drag.

This will naturally help you to slow down and you might find a new passion. It’s also a great way to connect with the past, as you are doing exactly what people decades, or perhaps centuries, ago were doing.

That’s pretty cool.