Productivity and GTD

Why You Should Always Carry a Notebook

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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Technology is everywhere; in your office, in your home, in your handbag, in your pocket and probably very soon, on your wrist or your glasses. Since today technology is available at all times, there are more traditional ways of doing things that are getting lost. And that is good on some occasions and it is not so good in others.

Technology is allowing companies and households to get organized paperless or at least, with great reduction of paper, which in turn allows you to share information more easily, and save costs and space, resulting in improved environmental impact. That’s great. Who needs to be sent an invoice by mail when you can check it online and use it digitally in PDF format?

In addition, paperless means better organization, and better organization leads to greater productivity. In many cases, capturing the information directly into a digital system cuts out redundant work, reduces the margin for error and allows for the associated work-flow to get started immediately.

However, there is at least one situation in which I am totally in favour of using paper. Indeed, if, instead of getting information that other people or systems have produced, you need to capture information that is being created in your own brain, I recommend that you forget all that technology. If you need to develop something that is still not completely defined in your head—an idea, a design, a concept, a process, etc.—, take pen and paper and start spontaneously writing or drawing what you have in your head.

What are the advantages of using paper in these cases?

  • Paper has no restrictions or limits. A paper has a much simpler and intuitive interface than any application, without predefined rules.
  • It teaches you to value your ideas and mental processes above the tools that you use.
  • If you’re not enjoying what you’re creating, you can throw it in the bin any time you like and start over.
  • It is much harder to get distracted when you’re working on a notebook than when you’re at the computer or handling a smartphone. 1
  • Psychologists say that it is a great exercise to keep your cognitive abilities running smoothly as you get older. 1
  • They also say that when you write by hand, your brain absorbs information better, you learn more. 1

Intuitively, designers know this. It’s funny that, despite the great number of good design applications on the market, paper is still the most used technique in the world for prototyping design.

In many cases, the paper is only good for a quick sketch of an idea, which will then require other, more complex tools to be worked with. In any case, it is an utterly necessary tool for collecting ideas and remembering things. And it is the reason why Richard Branson never leaves home without a notebook:

1 Notes:
~ How Handwriting Trains the Brain (The Wall Street Journal)
~ The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard (Psychological Science)
~ What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades (The New York Times)

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