Back To Paper – Is Handwriting Still Alive?

I decided to move from digital agendas and to-do lists to a more simple method using a paper notebook. I do still use some software (Evernote, Latex, Excel..), which I will cover in future posts.

Back To Paper – Is Handwriting Still Alive?

At the beginning it was very difficult to figure out a system to fit everything I wanted to keep organized and not carry more than 1 or 2 small notebooks. The experiment was to see whether this would make me more or less productive. Handwriting takes time and these days it seems like that would be a bad thing. There is also the fact that I was trying to get un-digitalized and stop using my computer so much everyday. I found this simple change to really make me realize how easy planning can be and how much we complicate things by using too much technology..

My method:

I currently use two medium sized notebook (moleskines in my case). Each of them have the date they were started, my name and the notebook number (notebook 1 and 2 right now) on the cover.

Notebook 1 (Agenda):

Notebook one has the date at the top of each page (This is my daily agenda). Using one page per day I scribble the hours from 8 am to 9pm as a list. Next to the list I plan my day by sections. A regular day looks like this:

  • 8-9 | Getup
  • 9-12 | Laboratory
  • 12-14 | Lunch
  • 14-18 | Study
  • 18-19 | Workout
  • 19- 23 | dinner, relax, sleep

The bottom 5-6 lines are used as a to do list for that day titled “Pendings”. Usually my “Pendings”are about 1-4 important things that I want to accomplish that day. I try to boil it down to the things that I want to accomplish that day.. What do I need to get done to consider it a successful day? Leaving this section as just a list is not very useful so try assign a tentative time for every pending to get done. This is done as subdivisions of the larger sections listed above.. Remember all this is tentative times, if you move them around during your day it is not a huge problem. Sometimes the opportunity to get more important things done comes up and you shouldn’t let those go by.

Notebook 2 (Inbox):

Great tip from Tim Ferriss: Number every other page at the bottom right.

This second notebook is divided in half:

Inbox – Is where every idea or anything I need to remember ends up (phone numbers, equations, addresses, hand made maps, websites, blog posts, etc..).
Research – This section is particular to me. I didn’t have it before, so I say it is optional. It is currently filled with quotes from scientific papers and information of other papers that I need to find and read later.
Every time I complete a page I write the page number and a brief description of what is on that page on the inside cover as an index (on the front for the inbox and the very back for the research section). Review your Inbox everyday and put those things that are worth keeping in a more permanent place depending on what they are (address book, your blog, research notebook, to mention a few). This little book will be a reminder on how you came up with some things and it is much like your draft journal. It is fun to look back after a couple weeks too.

This may seem obvious for some readers, but for most young people born into this digital era it almost seems like a PDA (ipod, tablet or smartphone) is the only way to organize your day effectively. The change truly brought my day back to control, hours of useless “organizing” just vanished. It also removed the rigidness of my day and allowed me to be more creative.

Everyone needs some uncertainty in their daily life. Not knowing what to do at that exact second, or arriving 2 minutes late to an appointment because you didn’t realize and your PDA didn’t ring is not the worst thing that could happen (always apologize if this happens though). Allow yourself some flexibility in your schedule, not to procrastinate but to make room for creativity and to be able to breathe. Allow some amount of spontaneity in your day, remember that a lot of great things happen when they are not planned.

What Triggered Me to Switch back to Paper:

The trigger for my change was thinking about the lifestyle my grandfather used to have. He was always on the go, but never seemed overwhelmed. I believe he simply wasn’t. Not because he didn’t have a million things to do, but because when those things were put down in his to-do list there were some decisions already made about them. He had an idea of what his decision was going to be even before he started the task pending. I believe that this was because hand writing a schedule and task implied effort, thought, and not just a click or copy and paste. This made him more motivated to complete the tasks at hand for that day. He realized that it was silly to think you can control all events in your day.

Is Paper and Handwriting still Alive?

Paper simply brings something different to the equation that a screen can’t. The focus needed to handwrite is something that is not necessary while typing (most people do it mechanically). This can be useful when writing a lot, but for organization it can be counterproductive. You don’t really want to create your agenda without “thinking” about it.

It is also too easy to get really into the software details and logistics of it and forget about what really matters, which is your decisions and actions. It is silly to expect perfection from a system that was made by someone else to work for you.

Also read: How to be Happy?