Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Power of Paper

For someone with horrible handwriting, I have a borderline fascination with pen and paper. So much so, that I find myself regularly scribbling notes and and ideas and more in a Moleskine notebook.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the Bullet Journal. It’s described as:

An analog note-taking system for the digital age.

Take a peek at the Bullet Journal site to get a feel for what the idea is all about. Take your time. I’ll wait for you.

Done? Great. Let’s continue.

The Bullet Journal is an interesting concept, though in its raw form the system is a bit too complex for my tastes. It seems a bit too heavily influenced by GTD. Still, I like the idea. And the Bullet Journal is easy to adapt, adopt, and simplify to meet your needs. In my case, for example, I’d just use use it for tasks and notes. For me, the rest of the system is chaff.

But the Bullet Journal goes well beyond being a system of capturing tasks and events. It illustrates the resiliency and utility of paper.

As archaic as it seems, paper can be very useful. Even in this age of tools like Evernote and Simplenote. It might not be as permanent as digital (or you can argue that it can be more permanent), but paper does have its advantages.

One of the biggest advantages is that writing things down can help you remember those things better. There are any number of reasons for that, which you can look up using your favourite search engine. But I’ve found, all through my life, that writing something down strengthens my memory of that something.

On top of that, going digital isn’t always convenient. You might not have a computer or smartphone or tablet handy. And not everyone can type quickly using the virtual keyboard on a mobile device. Writing things down is fast and immediate. Your writing keeps up with your thoughts. In fact, writing by hand helps edit your thoughts. In a good way. As I write, for example, I omit any unneeded bits of what I’m thinking. I focus on the core of an idea or thought, and build on that idea or thought later.

Why Not Use Analog and Digital?

You can do both if need be. That seems like you’re doubling up your work, but moving between paper and digital can help you focus your ideas and thoughts. Instead of duplicating everything you’ve stored in one medium word for word, point for point, distill the key ideas instead.

Or, you can use one source for everything, and create point form notes or a summary in the other. The latter trick is designed to spur your memory, not become your memory.

I know a number of people who write their notes in a notebook, then later scan them and save those scans to a tool like Evernote. Doing that gives them the best of both worlds, and almost universal access to their notes.

Paper is Definitely Not for Everyone

As I was writing this post, I could hear the plaintive whines starting. Whines like I can’t give up digital tool x, But paper doesn’t do y, and the like. I’m not suggesting that you give up something else for paper or use it to replace what works for you. So please don’t read between lines that aren’t there.

I realize that digital tools have their advantages: better and faster search, easier access to older notes and thoughts, and a more flexible way of organizing notes. And I know that some people just prefer digital over paper. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But that’s no reason to discount paper as a useful and powerful tool for organizing yourself and taking notes. Paper’s been doing that for as long as anyone can remember, and probably will continue to do that for a long time to come.

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