Simplicity and the triumph of paper. Maybe.


Paper it is then.

I moved back to paper last week. I had ordered some Circa stuff from Levenger when they were doing a free shipping offer (even to the UK!) I had forgotten about this thread but I set up a junior book with a printed calendar from iscrybe which I can print on falf a sheet of A5, fold and then punch for my Circa book.

It is working really well. There are some things which I would like to do on my PC but I am geting more done and that is what it is all about.



Paper is more visual

Being a very visual person I like to draw little diagrams an annote them or show ideas that link etc. Paper is obviously faster than a laptop for this. I'm 100% digital though as this seems to make it easier to organise.

The challenge for me is my brain seems to really like the idea of kinesthetic interaction. So if I can hold a card/A4 sheet with a pencil diagram/note on it that I've even used some coloured pencils on, that seems to be more of an enjoyable experience for me vs. my text lists in Windows Notepad.

So my preference is to move to 100% paper for no other reason than I can touch everything I'm keeping organised and doing. If you can touch it to me it seems more real and therefore something you can do or do something with.

Or maybe I just get bored typing all day long and miss using a pencil and paper. Don't we all?


I've especially enjoyed this thread, and reading about Katherine's progress. It's a highly personal decision, and like others posting here, one that I struggle with.

I love my Treo with Outlook for the portability factor and ease of synchronization. However, my heart loves paper - the feel of it, and I am a visual person - the artsy side of me needs to see the "big picture" to really grasp something. This is what is making it hard. Right now what seems to be working (sort of) is having my calendar electronic so I can have it both on my computer at work and in my pocket when I'm out and about. My project list is in outlook and my daily actions and notes are in my planner. It still feels disjointed, however, and I feel like I'm not being as productive as I could be.

It's a process...but I wanted to say thanks to all who share their ideas and what works for them.



Converted last week to paper!

I was giving the paper system a lot of thought these days, and was both attracted to and repelled by it. Finally converted completely to paper and pen last week after a lot of planning as to catch leaks. (Though the result is a very simple system.) The only use of computer as far as organization is considered is now in printing blank planners, and typesetting checklists (since I look at one of them everyday, it's nice if it looks nice!)

I am using a variation of what DA recommends in one of his free articles on this site regarding paper organizer in a ring binder.

People have been talking about the advantages, so I won't repeat them... Just a few points which I realized:

* There is a lot of freedom from the limitations of (any) software.

* The lack of ability of the paper system to sort lists in various ways does not seem to be a problem at all.

* Writing projects and actions down with a pen feels to be a much more solid commitment than typing it in.

* With the electronic system, I sometimes left processing of an item half-way by making the detailed processing of that item a next action. Here I seem to have a resistance to that and instead go for full processing, since it involves less writing.

* The trust in the system has increased.

* The two-minute rule, which appeared to me a bit arbitrary till now (because typing an action takes about one to two seconds), seems more natural now, since writing takes a little more time, and I would save that time and avoid duplicating writing efforts if I complete that action immediately if it can be done in two minutes. Result: getting a bit more done!

It's just two days, but I am finding the paper system more comfortable for GTD even if I have no hesitation in using computers or programming for whatever else I do!


GTD Sydney

Katherine, if you don't mind sharing, what is your current system (and specifically are you still OK with effectiveness of paper) ?

I'm just leaving the corporate rat race and seem to be implementing a hybrid paper / daily Word document update GTD.

I have appreciated reading your concise posts about GTD

Thanks from Down Under.

Day Owl

Thanks, abhay, for bringing this valuable thread back to the surface. I too prefer paper and like to see how experienced people manage their paper systems.

GTD Sydney, I second your request.

Katherine, I always appreciate the clarity and relevance of your contributions. When you have the opportunity, please do let us know whether, and/or how well, your paper system is triumphing.


Yes, I'm still happy with paper. One of the nice things about a paper system is that it's very easy to augment as your needs change. Currently I'm using:

* Electronic address book. Apple's Address Book, synced to my phone and iPod. Electronic wins over paper for ease of updating and searching, easy connection to email, and ease of backup. The address book is the component I need with me most often, so portability is important, too.

* Paper calendar. Moleskine Weekly (two pages per week), junior size. Augmented with an electronic calendar for a few heavily scheduled weeks.

* Paper NA and Project lists, using respectively junior size and letter size Circa pages. I use two separate notebooks for these, since I rarely need to carry both, but they would be easy to merge if desired.

* Paper Ubiquitous Capture Tools. Several of these, depending on circumstances and mood. Index cards, bound journals, and newsprint scratch pads all have their uses.

Hope this helps,


GTD Sydney

Thank you, Katherine - very helpful.

I need to do something about address book and appreciate your sharing your approach. My partner and I are currently trying (yet another) s/w program. Maybe a simple in-the-mobile-phone would be better.



What a great thread - thanks

What a brilliant thread. I too am just making the shift back towards a hybrid system, with my calendar and contacts electronic (on the Mac) and my next action list in a paper system. I currently hold all my projects in mind manager. Some of the actions are added to my paper NA list and i bring them all together in my weekly review. I've found this thread brilliant and helpful as i took the step back to paper. I really love the feeling of striking off an action once it is complete and as someone mentioned earlier in the thread - the 2 minute rules works much better for me as i write things down.

I was interested to hear David mention in the last in conversation, some new stationary products for 2009 - i look forward to seeing these!!!


Scott Moehring

Couple thoughts on paper. I've posted them before, but they seem relevant to these posts.

1) I've attached a picture of my binder. I'm a lefty, so I just flipped it over. Hand-on-the-rings problem solved.

2) I added a bunch of tabs (Wilson Jones transparent - the best). My goal was to make sure I could get to all my context lists as fast as I could with a Palm. Low resistance = good GTD. The only unlabeled tabs in my photo are along the bottom. They are right to left - office, computer, errands, home. There is actually one more - calls - but it's not shown in this view.

3) I print out the lists once a week, then never touch the digital lists until the next weekly review. All new Projects and Actions go in the paper lists. During the Weekly Review, I add everything from the binder, review off the digital lists, and then print fresh copies.

I find that with this method I spend a lot more time working, and a lot less time playing (tweaking) with my tools under the excuse of "improving productivity". David once said he could be more effective with a legal pad and a box of manilla folders than most people could with their fancy but ineffective binders. I agree. This is about getting things done. If what you have set up actually makes your system disappear more (and brings your work into the forefront), then keep it. If not, lose it. For example, I don't tweak my mouse settings all the time, or buy a new mouse every week to see if another one is better. I just set it up, move it and click stuff. I don't even think about it 99% of the time I am using it. That's the ultimate paper system for me. The idea is captured, the task is managed, and the contexts are used efficiently with no fidgeting and fussing with the system itself. That's how I want my lists to be. They are only there to hold the stuff so I don't have to keep it in my head. The less I think about my lists, and the more I am actually just working within them, the better for me.


Attached files


Great GTD system, Scott...

I love your picture but am wondering where you calendar is? And do you do pure GTD or do you "plan" your day?



Filofax A5 & ResultsManager/MindManager combo


I am quite inspired by the idea of only using the digital solution just for the weekly review, since I am a tweaker and it is just another vehicle for procrastination. I am experimenting with an A5 Filofax because I am unable to take my laptop out of the office, at present.

With paper, it would appear to keep your focus strictly on your N/As, although I find it so much easier to capture new "stuff" into a computer program called GyroQ (plug-in for ResultsManager/MindManager) as I am at my desk. I suppose the best way is to capture my "stuff" into my Filofax and keep away from my computer programs until the Weekly Review.


Scott Moehring

About limiting use of the digital tools, I will add stuff to the digital lists midweek, but only if they can wait until the Weekly Review. If it's something that will need to be dealt with before then (gut check), then I add it to the physical paper lists. Those are my "working" lists, current and complete except for anything I have added to the digital lists that I know I don't need to see before the next review.

About "planning my day", that consists of a mini-review. Check today's tickler folder, waiting for list, and then calendar. I might also highlight a couple things on my action lists, but that's it. I gave up the whole Franklin Day Planning methodology a long time ago. Too many things on my calendar that didn't belong there, and way too much planning forward.

About my calendar, the one picture I posted doesn't tell the whole story. I have tabs that can't be seen in the photo because this is a view from the center of the action lists, and I have flipped past the front section. In order, here's my tabs:

Inbox (blank sheets),
Calendar (month views printed from my calendar app - small area prevents putting stuff on the day that really doesn't belong there),
@Computer (with subheadings for Web and email),
Waiting For,

Addresses section, organized by category instead of alphabetically. I found I could find them easier that way, especially when I couldn't recall their name. It's like trying to find a word in the dictionary that you can't spell. How do you start? :)
- business (personal, like the plumber)
- family
- friends
- medical
- office
- vendors (for my job)
- school/scouts

That's followed by a set of alphabetical tabs to keep small amounts of reference material. I use an old Franklin Covey trick to find these. I put the location in parentheses after the task in my lists. For example, I would print out a map for the sales meeting, slip it behind the "S" tab in the binder, and add a note on the sales meeting calendar entry (BT-S). That stands for Binder Tab "S". Simple, and it works fast. I look at the calendar, and I know right where to look for other stuff. I don't keep a lot in this section, but it is really handy. Works great for remembering the location of hidden presents too (under the bed).

That's it. Let me know if you have any more questions about the binder.


I just read this post through from "A-Z" and really enjoyed it.

How are all of you who switched to paper during this post doing with your paper system? Have you stayed paper? Switched a time or two? Or, have any of you gone back to digital planning and why.

Just wondering.


GTDWorks;64349 said:
I just read this post through from "A-Z" and really enjoyed it.

How are all of you who switched to paper during this post doing with your paper system? Have you stayed paper? Switched a time or two? Or, have any of you gone back to digital planning and why.

Just wondering.

Thanks for bringing it up; I was thinking about posting my update for some time. Yes, I did switch to a digital system, but with the lesson of simplicity learned. I stopped using paper because I couldn't tolerate the amount of paper involved. Another minor reason: some long-stay papers started to get damaged at the binder clips. Then there is some rewriting involved when one sheet is more than half filled with done items, so that all I have is undone items.

But the value that it gave me was the simplicity, flexibility and free format. So when switching to digital, I decided to use plain text files. I am using them for more than six months now, and I am perfectly settled with it. Partly because of how smooth it is going, and partly because I decided to be more conscious when I thought of tweaking or changing the system, and to use the workflow itself for tweaking: Start with the purpose of the tweak; visualize the system after that, sleep on it for two days, compare it with the current one before switching, and so on. And for my setup, most of my thoughts of tweaking did not sustain the "sleep" part :) Those which did, turned out to be good. But the baseline is still the same: plain text files.



I've made a switch to mostly paper this week. I was using Outlook synched to my smartphone. Both worked great, there was no problem with the tools. But, I finally figured out that I was spending more time "tweaking" my system and not enough time doing it. (I get distracted by bright shiny objects. LOL)

I decided to go with a hPDA. Spent a day copying everything over and I'm all set. Using index cards helps me to pay less attention to what I'm using (cheap & easy supplies) and just record what I need. I'm still using Outlook for contacts and calendar. My calendar can sometimes change quickly, so I like it for easy modification. I use a hPDA calendar template to carry a copy of it with me and just compare them when I check email at the end of the day. Usually just one or two changes end up being made to the calendar, if necessary. I worry less about how it all looks and is organized and more time just reading through my list and doing them. When my contract needs to be renewed, I'm downgrading to a regular cell phone. Easier for me to nmanage and saves money at the same time!

I was glad I tried the smartphone, but for me going back to paper is a better choice.


Good to hear, Tspall. Anyone else switch to paper lately or have left a paper system for a digital one? How's it going?