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

Planning on Paper

With all the tools at your disposal, you might be surprised to learn that old fashioned pen and paper are one of the most effective ways of planning … well, anything.

No matter what you’re trying to do — plan your writing, come up with a strategy, sketch out a design — pen and paper can be effective. Pen and paper can work.

Notice I wrote can. As with just about anything else, you need to approach planning on paper with the right mindset, the right expectations, and the right strategy.

Here’s some advice that can help you plan on paper.

Choose your tools

This is one case where the tool is important. You need to make what you’re doing clear and easy to read or modify. You also need to differentiate and highlight information.

What you choose depends on whether you’re working alone or collaborating with others. If you’re planning and working solo, you can use any combination of the following:

  • A large notebook (8.5” x 11” or A4)
  • Sticky notes
  • A fine-point pen
  • Highlighters or markers of varying colours

If you’re collaborating with others, I suggest:

  • Sticky notes
  • An easel pad
  • Coloured markers
  • Sharpies or other fine-point markers

These are just suggestions. Use whatever works for you, but don’t discount mixing tools as you need to. Flexibility when planning, whether or paper or digitally, is always a good thing!

And if you’re wondering why I recommend using fine-point writing instruments, that’s easy: I find that they can help make even bad handwriting legible.

Getting to Work

Don’t just jump in. Have an outline of what you want to achieve in a planning session. Having an outline ensures that you don’t waste time or paper.

The outline doesn’t need to be detailed. It can just be a list of points. Using that outline, build out. You can elaborate on you list, adding detail and timelines. You can also create a mind map — I discuss how to create a mind map elsewhere.

Working in a group presents its own challenges. You’ll wind up with a lot of ideas, which is why everyone (or every group) should do their work using a different coloured marker or pen. That lets you tell who’s doing what.

What about working with sticky notes? That’s a post in itself. I detail how to plan an ebook with sticky notes at my writing blog. You should be able to adapt that advice to just about anything you do.

From there, break your work down into a set of tasks. Remember to attach deadlines and milestones to those tasks. Otherwise, they have a tendency to languish.

Going Digital

You might need to transfer the results of your planning session to a digital tool — for example, if you’re collaborating online. Or, you might just want a backup.

How you do that will depend on the tools you use. You can take a photo and attach it to a note in Evernote. You can add tasks and alerts in Google Calendar. You can create a project board in Trello.

If you do go digital, remember to focus on what you can act upon. All your other notes aren’t as important. You can save them, but remember to keep them separate from your tasks.

Final thought

Planning on paper isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for every task. But planning on paper is useful when you need to get away from the digital world and let your ideas flow.

Remember that a plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you act upon it. Not tool will do that work for you. It all lies with you.

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