Simplicity and the triumph of paper. Maybe.

kewms

Registered
A little while ago, I posted that I'd trimmed out a lot of the hierarchy in my GTD system. I'd realized that it was too hard to find things, and so I wasn't maintaining the system well, with predictable consequences.

I've now taken an even more radical step, switching almost entirely back to paper. (For those not hanging on my every word, my former system depended on the ResultManager add-in for MindManager.)

I realized that I prefer working on paper for most things: planning, taking notes, jotting reminders to myself, etc. The advantages of an electronic system just don't make up for the extra data entry step, especially when I've already made a note on paper, and especially when I'm busy. Meanwhile, I've added a bunch of new clients, all with relatively small projects. That makes the organizational overhead of the system more noticeable than if I had a few big projects.

I also realized that I had overcomplicated the context system by trying to split things too narrowly. I have basically two kinds of work: stuff that requires intense focus for long periods, and stuff that doesn't. The high-focus stuff is almost all project-based, and I think of it as "work on XYZ project," not as "@Read/Review" or "@Write" or @anything else. The low focus stuff is almost all context-driven: I plow through a list of @Phone or @Email or @Home stuff, without reference to any particular project.

And finally, I realized that an electronic system makes it easier for cruft to accumulate in my lists. I can merrily drag an electronic task along for months, or even years, without ever having to think about when I plan to do it, or even if I still care about it. A paper system forces me to engage with my tasks much more directly: why do I keep copying that over and over again?

My new approach is still a work in progress, but here's what I have so far:

* Paper calendar, using the Day-Timer 2-page per week vertical format. Used primarily for planning purposes, since most of my appointments are desk-based and Outlook's calendar works well for those. Contacts stay in Outlook as well: it works, why change it?
* Tickler for email and phone followup tasks, incorporated into the calendar.
* List of project deadlines and upcoming trips, also incorporated into the calendar.

The list of project deadlines puts a thumbnail overview of my workload at my fingertips. Very useful when talking to prospective clients about my availability, and also when I'm prioritizing what to do next. This is not my complete project list, just the big, high-priority chunks.

The email and phone tickler is because I often want to followup on something "in about two weeks." I don't care whether it happens on Monday or Wednesday, but it needs to happen in a particular week and I don't want to think about it until then. This supplements my primary 43-folder tickler. It should double as my @Email and @Phone NA lists, too, but I won't know for sure until I work with it for a while.

The rest of the system uses (for now) Levenger Circa pages for NA lists. These are divided by context where applicable (@Errands, @Home) and by project where not (Project XYZ, Office Admin). To avoid overwhelming myself, each list is limited to one side of one junior-size page: anything that won't fit is either Someday/Maybe or a not-yet-doable project task. The advantage of Circa pages is I can "tier" the pages to see more than one at a time.

I haven't yet transferred my master project list or my Someday/Maybe list out of my electronic system, but these are destined for Circa pages as well.

I think that using projects as contexts will help avoid one of the biggest disadvantages of a paper system: having to copy the same items to more than one place. It also simplifies the problem of verifying that each project has at least one NA. The risk is that project-related stuff that is not an NA will creep onto these lists, but the one-page limit should help me catch such problems quickly.

This is a work in progress, so I'm sure there's still some fine-tuning to do. But so far it seems much more natural.

Comments welcome, especially from other retro-paper folks.

Katherine
 

smithdoug

Registered
Wow. Now that's a radical step.

Let me say that I have come to look forward to your posts in these forums. Your comments always seem to show remarkable clarity, insight and good common sense. So I encourage you to comment from time to time on how all of this is working out.
 

altruologist

Registered
Triumph of Paper

That post has helped me solidify my thinking and the process I have undertaken to reduce my total use of Outlook and a pda- I realised I was loosing something by being Outlook bound. What I missed was being 'in the moment' when I am planning, thinking, brainstorming and interacting with other human beings. I have been in too many meetings with folks taking notes on their laptop to know that their attention is elsewhere and their retention is going to suffer as a result. The biggest problem I have is the fact that I was always a Franklin Planner two page a day user but would prefer not to use their system for personal reasons- Filofax does not export a two pager per day to Australia so it is off to DIY Planner!
 
N

NA_johnny

Guest
It’s funny I decided to do something like that a few days ago – using @project x as context in addition to @phone @pc etc. The only problem I’ve encountered so far is that some NAs that I put under @project list could sometimes be put under some other context such as @pc @online @x agenda etc... So sometimes when I’m on the phone for example, and I look at my @phone list, I miss the NAs under @project x that could have been done had I put it under @phone instead. So I have to be careful that NAs under @project x are tasks I would only do when I’m DOing project x. I have a list called @personal development. And under it I have “read downloaded mind map materials @pc”. I won’t be reading about mind mapping whenever I’m @pc, just when it’s time to do some personal development.
Another problem I’ve encountered is I tend to use @project x list as if it’s project support material, putting notes under the list instead of doable tasks, because it’s much easier to just flip to the @project x page in my notebook than open the filing cabinet and pull out the project x support material folder.
cheers to the paper folks.
 

Aspen

Registered
Very interested to hear how it works for you

It sounds like the new system you are setting up is very similar to the system I am *trying* to set up. I have a couple questions for you if you don't mind as I also enjoy your posts and comments very much.

1. How do you use the 2 pg per week format for planning? I ask because I also have 2 pages per week in my planner because its wonderful to see my entire week at a glance. Sometimes though I feel like it isn't really enough room to do much planning.

2. Also I'm curious about your circa notebook. I have checked them out at the website when someone else was recommending them. I love the idea of being able to reorganize pages, but I've worried that pages might pull out since they aren't all the way attached. Also, I don't understand how you would tier them unless you would be taking them out to do so.

I hope your system works out well for you!
 

kewms

Registered
Aspen said:
1. How do you use the 2 pg per week format for planning? I ask because I also have 2 pages per week in my planner because its wonderful to see my entire week at a glance. Sometimes though I feel like it isn't really enough room to do much planning.
It depends on what sort of planning you're trying to do, of course. I use monthly and yearly calendars to sort out deadlines and intermediate milestones. Then, during my Weekly Review, I figure out how much I need to do this week and use the calendar to decide roughly when I'm going to do it. All of this is after I've planned out the project itself in as much detail as necessary, for which I usually scribble on big (11"x17") sketchbook sheets.

At least for me, the vertical format 2-page per week style works much better than the horizontal format. (In vertical format, each day has a column, and they line up side-by-side: http://day-planner.daytimer.com/content/images/close_up/10231.jpg. In horizontal format, each day has a few lines, and they stack sequentially: http://day-planner.daytimer.com/content/images/close_up/10831.jpg.) Unfortunately, the vertical format is much more difficult to find.

2. Also I'm curious about your circa notebook. I have checked them out at the website when someone else was recommending them. I love the idea of being able to reorganize pages, but I've worried that pages might pull out since they aren't all the way attached. Also, I don't understand how you would tier them unless you would be taking them out to do so.
The Rollabind punching that Circa notebooks use seems pretty secure to me. Rings are spaced about an inch apart, so there doesn't seem to be much stress on any given ring, and you'd have to lose all of the rings to lose a page. I think Levenger has relatively inexpensive sample packs if you'd like to try it out. I also saw a few Rollabind notebooks in Staples the other day, but their cover and paper quality weren't as nice as Levenger's.

Yes, tiering requires taking pages out. I do it by putting junior-size (or smaller) pages on letter-size rings. You can fit 4 junior-size tiers, or 6 compact-size. Each tier is one ring lower than the one above.

Katherine
 

Deepak Khiani

Registered
Reverted back to paper

Hi

I looked into all electronic devices and ended up using palm with chapura
installed, but now I use this for listing my contacts only and maybe some notes on a particular contact. It was nice to be able to electronically move, copy, and delete but this did not facilitate thinking.

Paper allows me to spread out my thinking and perspective on what I'm trying to get done. Juggling from project list to NA lists and then looking at my calender on the tiny palm just did not work for me. I could not effectively think about a project or next action without pen/pencil in hand and some nice paper real estate for some tactile scribbling and crossing out. I like to use pencil and those nice staedtler erasers.
 

aderoy

Registered
I have found that with the Time/Design binder, I place any project related tasks with the project 'form' itself. Any call, waiting for etc would go on the form or if there is many in seperate action lists.

For all communications to person 'X' will go to the communcation form referencing the action list as required.

For the person who can not get Filofax downunder, check out Time/Design I think they can supply your request.

Yes I am a happyy customer
 

smithdoug

Registered
Interesting concept

I don't know for how many years I've received Levenger catalogs featuring their Circa notebooks yet never paid any attention to them until reading posts about Circa on this form. It is an interesting concept. Like a spiral-bound notebook--but unlike a ring binder--the Circas can be opened and folded all the way around to lay flat. And like a traditional ring binder--yet unlike a spiral-bound notebook--the pages can be removed, re-inserted and re-organized.

A few years ago, David Allen wrote about what he called--if I remember correctly--his new universal capture tool; a rather smallish spiral bound note book (approximately 4x6 ??) with perforated pages. More expansive than his notetaker wallet but small enough for easy portability. Pages could be torn out and placed in the inbox.

Because the pages can be removed and re-inserted, the Circa looks like it might be quite useful for project notes, especially those taken away from the desk. And the refills appear to be cheap enough to be used like Allen's old universal capture tool.
 

petdr

Registered
Rollabind / Circa

kewms said:
The Rollabind punching that Circa notebooks use seems pretty secure to me. Rings are spaced about an inch apart, so there doesn't seem to be much stress on any given ring, and you'd have to lose all of the rings to lose a page.
I use the Rollabind junior notebook. It's secure, you just have to make sure you have enough paper in it to stabilize the discs (rings). Helps if you have the cover or tab dividers, but you can do the same thing with the manilla folder (cut down to size).

Love the Rollabind system for it's flexibility. With the junior size (~6"x8") notebook, I use the top 5 (of 8 discs) to hold my calendar pages, month on 2 pages and vertical week on 2 pages... the big plus with this notebook is the bottom 3 discs --- here I have the NAs filed under their contexts (@call, etc..) or even the traditional list of "to do's". This set-up avoid the dreaded re-writing of "to-dos" in paper planner. I can flip to different days (calendar) on the top part of the notebook, and the NAs stay put on the bottom. I use the regular copy paper but just happens that the 3 discs size of the bottom half of the notebook is the same size as the 3x5 index cards. So I Rollabind punch the index cards that I use for capture and also add them to the NA section as needed. These index cards and smaller strips of paper are recycled/tossed (or re-used if it's a repeating NA) when done. If there's a calendar item with notes (ie @Agenda for that meeting), I can move that index card or strip of paper up into the calendar section. Lots of ways to work this system.

I use 3 of the small discs to hold a stack of index cards together to form a small notebook. Used strictly as a capture tool and transferred over to the larger notebook for processing.

By the way, this splitting of the notebook is only for one section of the notebook. The other sections for journaling, brainstorming, etc... remain full junior page size.

Not sure if the above makes sense :) It's been working out well. The down-side is I had to play with the dimensions for the calendar pages and had to have the blank note pages cut down to size for the bottom half of the notebook. But it's easy once I figured out the dimensions and had Office Depot cut them (I'm useless with a paper cutter).
 

Max

Registered
First, thank kewms. Very interesting post. I have been wanting to move more toward paper but having trouble balancing between digital and paper. I brainstorm and plan better on the computer but I work better off of handwritten n/a lists.

One question I had on the Circa notebook is regarding the rings. I am left handed and it looks like the ring would be difficult for a lefty. Does any have any experience with this? It it any more or less difficult to deal with than standard binder rings?
 

niall

Registered
back to paper

Great post btw.

I made the move back as well and find it very liberating - yes I still need computer and email etc etc but I find I think when I use paper so I find less stuff falls through the cracks.

I use Moleskin 18 month planner for date specific stuff, I use the notes paeg to capture date specific to do's and I cross reference to the page number in a notebook for specific meetings e.g. Team meeting page 123. I pre-number the pages and just work through the pages.

I keep the lists on index cards which are great for portability and just easy to use.

So far it works for me...

Niall
 

marcia

Registered
another retro-paper person

I have a paper-based GTD system. One thing that helps me is to be able to see the contexts and agenda items for my projects at a glance. It's just a simple matrix: for each project I have a list of action items. Next to each action item are several columns. Each column is either a context, like @Mac, @calls, etc. or the name of a person involved with the project. I also have a 'waiting for' column. I draw a small, open circle in the appropriate column to indicate which context the action is in. When I finish an action I fill in the circle.

So, for example, if I sit down at my Mac to work on a project, I flip to the project page and quickly find the incomplete actions by glancing down the '@Mac' column for any open circles.
 
P

pageta

Guest
kewms said:
I also realized that I had overcomplicated the context system by trying to split things too narrowly. I have basically two kinds of work: stuff that requires intense focus for long periods, and stuff that doesn't. The high-focus stuff is almost all project-based, and I think of it as "work on XYZ project," not as "@Read/Review" or "@Write" or @anything else. The low focus stuff is almost all context-driven: I plow through a list of @Phone or @Email or @Home stuff, without reference to any particular project.
I so agree with what you're saying. I use an exclusively paper system, and I have lists of short simple tasks when I'm in the mood to knock out a bunch of small items, and then I have lists of tasks that take longer and require more focus. Some of the latter are very simple in terms of steps so they aren't necessarily projects in terms of complexity, but they are things that once I start, I want to finish, usually due to the level of set-up involved (e.g. getting everything out that I need to complete the task).

I have a NA section in my planner and a project section. If the complexity of a project merits a page in my project section, it gets one. But other high-focus activities (that I want to spend a block of time on) are simply contexts in my NA section. Sometimes there are things related to a project that need to be done in a certain context, such as getting supplies for something when I'm in town which goes on the Errand list or making a phone call which goes on the Call list. Otherwise, the NAs for that project stay with the project itself since they will be done when I sit down and focus on that project. I always make sure I have a NA defined for a project, but it doesn't necessarily go on a NA list unless it can stand alone.

I know DA makes it sound as though he always has his next NA for a project on a specific context-based NA list (such as Home or Office), but this has been something I had to further define, and I'm so glad to hear someone else thinking this way too. This approach also works very well with time-mapping - I've learned from experience how many projects I can work on in one day (one or two) and by limiting my day to the specific project(s) I selected for that day and letting the quick NAs fill in the cracks, I get a lot more done without feeling overwhelmed. I also think about which days I will devote to which projects when I do my weekly review, though I don't necessarily note that on my calendar since I use it for firm appointments only.

kewms said:
And finally, I realized that an electronic system makes it easier for cruft to accumulate in my lists. I can merrily drag an electronic task along for months, or even years, without ever having to think about when I plan to do it, or even if I still care about it. A paper system forces me to engage with my tasks much more directly: why do I keep copying that over and over again?
That is so true! When I've re-written a given task two or three weeks in a row, I step back and ask myself if it's really that important to me or if I need to further define it in order to get it off the list. A paper system is very good for alerting oneself to the presence of such tasks.

kewms said:
The email and phone tickler is because I often want to followup on something "in about two weeks." I don't care whether it happens on Monday or Wednesday, but it needs to happen in a particular week and I don't want to think about it until then. This supplements my primary 43-folder tickler. It should double as my @Email and @Phone NA lists, too, but I won't know for sure until I work with it for a while.
Another good observation. I have a separate tickler for my customer calls, and it serves exclusively as its own context. I don't have a separate page in my planner for those NA's - I just use the tickler and have regularly scheduled times for checking that tickler and doing that task. This system works very well for me so I hope it works out for you as well.

kewms said:
The rest of the system uses (for now) Levenger Circa pages for NA lists. These are divided by context where applicable (@Errands, @Home) and by project where not (Project XYZ, Office Admin). To avoid overwhelming myself, each list is limited to one side of one junior-size page: anything that won't fit is either Someday/Maybe or a not-yet-doable project task. The advantage of Circa pages is I can "tier" the pages to see more than one at a time.

I haven't yet transferred my master project list or my Someday/Maybe list out of my electronic system, but these are destined for Circa pages as well.

I think that using projects as contexts will help avoid one of the biggest disadvantages of a paper system: having to copy the same items to more than one place. It also simplifies the problem of verifying that each project has at least one NA. The risk is that project-related stuff that is not an NA will creep onto these lists, but the one-page limit should help me catch such problems quickly.
Making projects their own context definitely cuts down on the paper system problem of copying things to more than one place. I haven't ever used an electronic system, but when I hear people talk about this aspect of the electronic system, it has always made me shudder in confusion at the mere thought of it. (There are other reasons why I don't use an electronic system as well - mainly data-entry and back-up issues). Dare I say that using a paper system can perhaps help the electronic people simplify their systems as well?

I will confess to having some planning (non-NA) stuff on my project pages, but I've solved that issue by putting stars next to the NAs so I can easily pick them out. Any given project will typically have ideas that turn out to not be part of the final plan. So I have my plan, my ideas and my NAs on one page, but when I do my weekly review or spend a block of time on a project, I will sometimes re-write the page in order to re-focus on just the ideas that are working (vs those that turn out to be flops). I will often have ideas that may lead to NAs but aren't necessarily NAs yet, and I don't hesitate to include them. But keeping a project limited to one page definitely helps keep the focus at a level where the project can proceed effectively. After all, it's only one page, after all, so freshening it up a little by re-writing it when I've made progress or re-fined what exactly the plan is seems to be a very effective use of my time. Sometimes I have pages for sub-projects, but again, as the project proceeds, I consolidate in order to focus my thinking.

So all in all, very interesting observations, Katherine. I hope it's working well for you.
 
J

jmbreitinger

Guest
I too love paper -- for certain things.

I take all of my notes on paper.
I keep a journal on paper.
It is my preferred mode for a mind dump.
I generally sketch out an outline on paper before I start writing.
I use it to map long-winded documents mid-stream.

But, then I digitize it. For the last year and a half, I have made an effort to get everything filed electronically. I work on a laptop that I carry everywhere. I have a second monitor that extends my desktop both at home and at work. This allows me to work from my notes without printing stuff out. It is not unusual for me to have 12 windows open at a time. I also have a fast Fujitsu ScanSnap two-sided color scanner in both places. That way, when I would normally file a piece of paper, I instead drop it into the scanner. It turns it into a PDF. I find that I now have much better access to my stuff.

As I have taken more time to try to master my computer (not originally a love of mine), I have learned to love it for other things. When I write a memo for distribution, I want the ease of clip and past and drop and drag. I also like the richness of being able to embed images and links to supplement my writing. One of my favorite new tools is SnagIt, which lets me capture anything that I can get on my screen.

I find that I am much more creative by using both modes -- paper and digital.

My new challenge is managing all of my digital assets but that is another story…
 

kewms

Registered
I tried the scan everything route. It doesn't work for me. I work away from my computer often enough that I routinely have 5-15 pages of scannable stuff at a time. For whatever reason, that pushes the project over my threshold for useless busy work, and it doesn't get done.

Decent handwriting recognition would help, since then I wouldn't have to depend on (and enter) metadata to find things again, but I haven't seen a tool that comes close to making sense of my handwriting.

Katherine
 

AdamMiller81

Registered
Also primarily paper

It's interesting. I'm generally a tech junkie, but for various reasons, my system is largely paper centred, though there is a significant electronic system in the background.

Basically, my central calendar, and NA/Project Lists are in my paper planner, and I have a notepad in there as well (plus I'll usually carry around some blank scrap paper for quick notes). In addition, if I know I'm heading to a meeting, I'll bring a larger notebook for better notetaking. I've found that this paper system is easy to manage, I never have to worry about charging it, and there's a certain sense of accomplishment with each page of completed tasks I remove from the book. In addition to this, I've got a paper tickler system, and due to the type of work I do, and the amount of paper required in maintaining all our ISO documents, I've got a significant paper personal reference system, and project folders for both personal projects and work projects.

However, I also do 90% of my work on the computer, so I have a fairly extensive electronic reference system and project documentation.

One thing that I've considered changing is the fact that I do have some duplication in certain areas of my system. Namely in Calendars. I've got my calendar I use in my paper planner, my calendar in my Outlook at work, and a calendar online at Google calendars. While there is a bit of duplication, I find it also works. If I'm working at my desk, I can see everything at a glance, and I don't always want to keep all my personal appointments in the office run exchange server. However, at home, sometimes my planner is downstairs near the front door, while I am up on my laptop just trying to confirm a few things. being able to quickly look at gCal is a great way to see what's happening. And if I'm out and about at the office or anywhere, I generally have my paper calendar that has everything.

Add in the fact that I didn't have the money to buy a nice PDA, and even if I did, there's no guarantee that I'd get the approval from IT to hook it up, and paper starts to look better and better.
 

kewms

Registered
Fine tuning: what to do with email?

So I switched to a paper system. Go me! And yet people keep sending me stuff via email. Much of my email either takes two minutes or less to answer, or clearly translates to an NA in my system. But some of it has attachments, and it seems pretty silly to print out a multi-page document for no reason other than to stuff it in a folder until I can (electronically) deal with it. Client-related email has a designated home in the client's electronic folder, but what about the proposal a friend wants me to critique or the product research I asked my assistant to do?

Often, this was the kind of stuff that would end up cluttering my Inbox. Even though I could easily attach a file to an electronic task, my lack of trust in my electronic system meant that I often kept the reminder around in my email, too. (Which is of course completely anti-GTD.)

Enter the Pending file. With a paper system, I find it's easier to create a (paper) NA referencing the item and then drag it to an (electronic) Pending file than it was to create an (electronic) NA and attach it.

In other news, I've discovered that almost all of the accumulated stalled actions from my electronic system were for administrative stuff, which I define as non-billable maintenance work done using the computer. This makes sense: billable work gets done because it has hard deadlines, while things like updating my website are always less important. I suspect that many of these items are also projects in disguise and/or work that I consider uninteresting. So at my next Weekly Review I want to reprocess the list and see what I need to do to start moving stuff forward.

Katherine
 

GTDWorks

Registered
Katherine:

I find your journey with paper to be so interesting. Thanks for the great posts and clarity you bring to the GTD process for so many of us at GTD Connect.
 

Max

Registered
GTDWorks said:
Katherine:

I find your journey with paper to be so interesting. Thanks for the great posts and clarity you bring to the GTD process for so many of us at GTD Connect.
I agree. Thanks Katherine.

Fortunately, this is one benefit that we all receive; even the Unconnected.
 
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