In defense of the analog

A paper planner and a brass pen

Photo by NORTHFOLK on Unsplash.

I’ve never been known as the most productive person in the world, quite the opposite. I’m a compulsive procrastinator, always have been, and it’s something I remember struggling with since high school. There was a point in my life when procrastination became a huge problem, and saw myself sacrificing time doing what I like (hell, even sacrificing basic human needs, like sleeping) and said to myself: “Enough, I’m an adult now, I need to take control of my productive life”.

As the stereotypical techie I am, I resorted to the obvious (and worst) place to start my personal productivity journey: Reddit (I know, I know) and this is where I went deep into the personal productivity rabbit hole. I tried to organize my college work using all the methodologies recommended by other Internet nerds: GTD, Pomodoro, Eat that frog, you name it.

And, again, as the computer geek I am, I found myself wasting hours trying every digital organizational tool I could find, with no success (Of course! That was time I was supposed to be doing actual work!). I tried Wunderlist, Microsoft ToDo, Evernote, Todoist; if there was a productivity app out there that was free, I have probably tried it (And no, I’m not taking recommendations).

Trying new apps became my new procrastination method of choice, and it didn’t help one bit. After a lot of trial and error, I settled for the tools I overlooked the most: The good ol’ pen and paper.

Why are pen and paper the best organizational tools?

Look, this is all my personal opinion, I’m not trying to write a scientific paper here. There are a lot of research going on about why writing stuff down with a pen is better than typing it on a computer for long term retention. A simple Google search for the topic will yield thousands of results. What I want to write here are my personal experiences organizing my software development work using just a pen and some notebooks.

1. There are less distractions

A notebook is just that: a notebook. A bunch of paper where you write things down. A notebook won’t fight for your attention, it won’t show useless stuff to keep you looking at it, it won’t bother you with notifications trying to pull you right back to it. It’s the most effective tool: It’s boring, uninteresting, and you can write your ideas down and organize your day without the risk of spending hours on another YouTube hole or mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed.

With you phone, you can pull it out of your pocket to look at your tasks for today and next thing you know, you’re on the Wikipedia reading about the Australian saltwater crocodile.

2. It’s possible to organize yourself in the way that works best for you

After trying all task management apps out there for the iPhone, I realize that none of them works perfectly for me. They are all opinionated on how you should organize yourself, and if not, there are a lot of friction between setting up your workspace and actually organizing your work. You want an organizational tool that allows you to plan your day without having to spend hours to get it working.

You know what’s flexible without a lot of effort? A piece of paper. You can divide every page of a notebook however you want, you can write, draw stuff, strikethrough text, or whatever you need to organize yourself in any way that works for you. It’s no coincidence that GTD is still a paper-first methodology.

3. Things you write down feel important

Yes, you probably type important things all day, but you also type ‘lol’ on that meme that a friend sent you and you already saw on Reddit. Opening your app of choice and quickly type ‘send my boss the monthly report’ doesn’t feel more important than typing ‘lmao’ as a response to a tweet.

You know what feels important? Opening your notebook, uncapping your pen and writing ‘send my boss the monthly report’. Every time you need to add a new task to your productivity system, you engage in a satisfactory ritual, and like every other ritual, there is a level of friction that makes it feel important.

Also, you can close your notebook once you’ve done everything for the day, another satisfactory ritual.

4. Task visibility

Todoist is great, it’s my favorite digital organizational tool. But you know why it’s not as effective as pen and paper? Because as soon as you input a task or mark something as ‘Completed’, you minimize the app (or move to another tab) and you just lost visibility on the day ahead.

Yes, you can remind yourself to bring Todoist back up on the screen, but you know what is always there for you without reminder? Your notebook. The notebook it’s not on a screen, you can’t minimize a notebook. You can close it, yes, but why would you? Keep your planner/notebook open next to your computer and you’ll always have visibility on what you need to do next.

5. We’re adults now, endulge in your pen and paper

C’mon, you work hard, get yourself a nice Moleskine or LEUCHTTURM1917 notebook and a fancy reusable pen or fountain pen and make that writing experience as satisfactory as possible. You deserve it. Also you won’t want to waste an opportunity to write, so you know you will use your shiny new analog productivity system.

6. Starting is easy

Yes, I know I said that you should endulge in a pen and a notebook, but you don’t really need to. All you need is a notebook and a pen (or pencil), and I bet you have one laying around somewhere, and if you don’t, you can easily get a cheap one nearby.

There are no hidden costs, not stupid freemium models, no recurrent subscriptions, the only cost is replacing an empty (or lost) pen and a new notebook when you run out of pages.

Also you don’t need to follow a dumb tutorial, watch endless YouTube videos or adapt to the system the developers came up with. If you have a pen and paper, you’re good to go.

Conclusion

These are the reasons I love organizing myself using a notebook and a pen. I’m by no means an unstoppable productivity machine, I’m still a chronic procrastinator after all, but writing stuff down using a pen is what keeps me on track.

I wanted to include my personal productivity system, but this post is already too long, so I’ll leave that for another time. As for now, thank you for reading, and hope you have a great (and productive) day! :)