Be “low-tech” to be more productive? Use a paper notebook.

By | July 30, 2009

There are some fantastic applications and services that can help you be more productive and manage your day. For instance my to-do / task list was recently managed through an addon for Mozilla’s Thunderbird, but it just wasn’t right for me. So I resorted to putting my to-do lists back in my paper notebooks.

paper notebook

paper notebook

Ever since I first started working I’ve used paper notebooks. At the beginning of the day I write the date and then I write headings for each task or thought. Essentially a personal wiki, (which I’ve also used, but given up on). It helps provide focus and a good way to store notes for later reference.

I’ve started to put my task list in the back working inwards. It makes you tackle older tasks as they are further back and you want to complete all the tasks on that page or reassess their importance. Then use the notebook for daily notes throughout the day from left to right like as per usually. Sure if I was to lose the notebook I would need to start again, but no great lose really.

The majority of the meetings I’ve gone into all these years, I’ve had a notebook ready, normally with a few bullet points or notes I’ve prepared for the meeting in response to an agenda or contributions I want to make.

Through training courses I’ve made notes and then later typed up more detailed notes and documents to maximize my experience and also to share with others.

Also incredibly handy for when wondering how I solved a tech problem years ago, I just browse back through the notebooks. Obviously not as good as an online wiki, but quite good.

At one stage when I used dreaded timesheets it helped me at the end of the week and I would just add the time to the headings also. So easy to assign times for projects and the nonsense categories on timesheets.

Whenever I’ve trained anyone or hired someone, I’ve given them a notebook. It amazes me how many people start a job and think they can remember everything or go on a training course and fail to take notes.

Also if something springs to mind and I’m travelling etc. I quickly note it down and then can forget about it for the rest of the journey etc. Get back to my latest book or looking out of the window and relax.

I’ve never suffered migration problems from system to system obviously, which electronic versions would require. When I started using paper notebooks 5.25 inch floppies were still widely used. Then 3.4’s, zip disks, cd’s, dvd’s and now usb’s. 9600 or 14400 modem speeds were a luxury and 2400 baud modems were still regularly used. A 20mbyte hard drive was huge and colour monitors were usually green or orange on black. I’ve never had to worry about file formats, space and conversions to stay updated. Never a worry about connection access. My only concern has been losing them through theft, fire, flood etc. Plus often devices, applications and services that aim to help you more productive, just end up costing you money, time and have bits n’ bobs that distract.

A tip though is not to store sensitive data like usernames and passwords. It’s not encrypted after all! So depending on what you do, you may wish not to store certain information and who knows perhaps a paper notebook isn’t for you, but for me it’s made me more productive and is a great reference.

Others go further with their uses for paper notebooks, but for now and the last sixteen years, it’s made me more productive. Sometimes the best solution is staying low-tech.