The war of paper vs. digital

cojo

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I work in a highly technical field (I do research on information security, aka ethical hacking), so it seems like a given that I would use a digitally-based GTD system.

I started GTD with a paper-based system to get the hang of the workflow, gradually moved to digital over the last couple of years with RTM, Google calendar, and an iPhone, but I'm strongly considering moving back to paper.

Benefits of computer-based GTD:
  • my emails, meeting invites and references are right there, so I can link to them
  • Archiving and searching abilities
  • Just takes up less space in my purse
  • Reoccurring meetings are easier to sync up
  • It makes me feel all super-cool to pull out my iPhone

Benefits of pen and paper:
  • Doesn't need batteries (I missed a meeting last week because my iPhone battery was dead when we were talking about scheduling it, and I never transferred it to electronic!!)
  • Forces me to slow down and think about what I'm committing to as I'm writing
  • Visually, it's easier to parse through a paper calendar
  • I can put stickers and doodles on things, which is waaay more fun
  • During weekly reviews, I can literally lay out all my lists and projects on a table to get a bigger picture
  • When I've crossed off my entire list of next actions on a page, and there's one that's dangling, it's a an indicator that I've put everything else first - therefore, I've been procrastinating on it and should really act on it, clarify the action, or make a decision to move it to someday-maybe (vs. digital, where it's just one big list)

I guess, in general, I just feel more disconnected when I use a digital system. Oddly enough, I used to gauge my stress levels by my handwriting in my planner - if I started scribbling my NAs in cursive, it was a sign I needed to manage my projects and maybe shelve some commitments for a while. Am I crazy for thinking about moving back to paper? Am I looking back through rose-colored glasses here, or looking for perfection where it doesn't exist? Has anyone else gone through this?
 
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supergtdman

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With paper you can't filter anything based on multiple criteria, you can't search, you can't undo and the list goes on and I'm just not going there (paper).
I almost don't use it at all, my handwriting is terrible.
I don't think there is any war between paper and digital though, use whatever works best for you. I don't think you're crazy but I personally wouldn't want to use paper system
 

MikeC

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(vs. digital, where it's just one big list)

Don't mean to ask a redundant question. But my Blackberry has the ability to set up categories. The IPhone does not?

Your paper vs digital is a MILLION DOLLAR question. I've gone back to paper and I feel so foolish! I enjoy writing and doodling and note making. Connection is important. But it is archaic.
 

cojo

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Yes. The iPhone does have the ability to set up categories. I use tags in RTM to do this.

Typically, in my paper system, I have one list for each context. But I'm saying I would physically remove a list from my paper system when I've crossed everything off it - and if one or two items are still there after I've done everything else, it's an indicator that I've been putting those off, and it forces me to think about why. That event doesn't happen with a digital system.
 

mhm802

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I can sympathize. Long-term paper person here. Quality of paper stock, real ink w/fountain pen, the aesthestics of the planner (Filofax in my case) are all really important to me. Working with paper seems also to work with the way I remember and process things. That said, at the New Year, with a brand-new Android phone out of the box (and temporarily between jobs), I set myself the task to migrate to digital, and found tools and solutions that made the transition easier than I expected: moved everything from FF to Google Calendar and Contacts, Toodledo and Evernote. Synched everything: Android, netbook and brand-new desktop. And used it. Loved the liberation of carrying a tiny wristlet or small handbag instead of the huge bags I was used to. Oh, I felt too cool for school!

And then I started a new job. Challenge #1: terribly slow DSL service at work made it impossible to use these tools efficiently when I was at work (oh the irony!), after all the time I'd spent time fine-tuning my new system. Challenge #2: could not keep up with the acceleration of information bombardment. Could not capture or process effectively because of challenge #1. Needed to write things down to keep up with the speed of what was coming at me. If I'd had my Filofax system, that kind of stuff would have entered my system seamlessly. Challenge #3: Even though my new job is in the same professional field, it's still a new job, and I realized it would take a little while to set up workflow and processes for the specifics of the new situation. I'd only EVER worked with a paper system before, so it made sense to fall back on that to get started. So I dusted off the Filofax again. At the moment I'm using the Filofax as the primary tool, and keeping the digital system as my BACKUP of the paper system. That may sound archaic and cumbersome, but it really serves me for the time being. Worrying about losing the paper planner or the limitations of no search capability were never deal breakers for me. But continuing to use the digital tools is allowing me to figure out how I might create a hybrid of the two. (For instance, the capabilities of Toodledo for my lists is light-years ahead of my paper lists.) I'm giving myself the rest of the calendar year to stick with this experiement, and then we'll see....
 
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supergtdman

Guest
I also think that paper system might be beneficial for one really good reason though,

with paper system you have to simplify as much as possible to just keep it usable because everything is done and redone manually, you don't have any features of digital tools so you don't really have an option to overdo and overcomplicate some things.

Having said that I still wouldn't want to use paper system.
 

Roger

Registered
It's a false dichotomy. There's no need to chose between them.

I've got parts of my system on paper; other parts are digital. Seems to work out just fine.

Cheers,
Roger
 

GTDWorks

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I use Google Calendar for my schedule, www.getflow.com for my lists with it all synced to my iphone. Works well except when I'm in the mountains and I have no internet connection or cellular service. From time-to-time I consider going back to paper as I love the format.
 

ArcCaster

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Computer systems make you peer through a little porthole

Computer systems provide a nice precise view of a very tiny space. Compare it to looking through a porthole with ability to zoom in even more precisely. You can move that porthole to different parts of your system, but you are always looking through that narrow little opening.

Paper systems allow you to spread out over a whole table or room. Imagine a view from an airplane looking down -- you can see the whole thing, with context and relationships.

If you like big picture, if you like to see visual representations of size and of relationships, paper is pretty powerful.

My perspective.
Rob
 

Roger

Registered
supergtdman;91391 said:
with paper system you have to simplify as much as possible to just keep it usable because everything is done and redone manually
Not to pick on anyone specifically, but I've heard this concern before and it always sort of baffles me.

I only write down things once. Ever. I can't remember the last time I had to "redo" anything. It's sort of a corollary to DA's "You don't need to have the same thought more than once, unless you happen to like having that thought."

So... maybe some people's paper systems involve a lot of rewriting, but it's not inherent to the medium.

Cheers,
Roger
 

Suelin23

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They say there are three types of learners - auditory, visual and kinesthetic. I am a visual learner, and prefer digital as it is so much neater (my writing is terrible), although I still like paper for big work, larger than your screen size. If your preferred style is kinesthetic then paper might be more suitable for your style as it firstly is a more tactile experience, much more to touch, and do (put notes, stickers, etc).

It's really a personal preference, there are pros and cons, but only you can decide which will work best for you. Consider which system helps you think clearer, and be productive, both when you are feeling good and when you are run down, stressed and sick.
If you came down with the flu for two weeks, which system would you want to maintain?
 
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supergtdman

Guest
Roger;91398 said:
It's a false dichotomy. There's no need to chose between them.

I've got parts of my system on paper; other parts are digital. Seems to work out just fine.
You still have to chose which parts are paper and which are digital.

Of course there is no need to go completely paper or digital. But you still have to chose.
For example if you want to keep your actions lists on paper then it probably wouldn't make sense to keep them digital as well. Unless you want to maintain 2 systems.

Roger;91398 said:
"with paper system you have to simplify as much as possible to just keep it usable because everything is done and redone manually"

Not to pick on anyone specifically, but I've heard this concern before and it always sort of baffles me.

I only write down things once. Ever. I can't remember the last time I had to "redo" anything.

...

So... maybe some people's paper systems involve a lot of rewriting, but it's not inherent to the medium.

Cheers,
Roger
My point was actually that there is a lot of rewriting unless you simplify the system as much as possible. Not that you have to do a lot of rewriting because it's on paper. So you just have to keep things simple which might be beneficial.

Well, I guess you could get away without rewriting some stuff ever like action lists ( but still what if you want to rename an action or something? ) but it would be impossible for me personally to use paper and get everything down just right from the beginning.

An example could be brainstorming in a mind map to plan actions and so on etc.

Even just a simple word processor revolutionizes the way people work nowadays because you don't have to get everything right from the beginning. You can start with anything and then just copy and paste to edit organize.
 

TesTeq

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Filtering, searching, undoing...

supergtdman;91380 said:
With paper you can't filter anything based on multiple criteria, you can't search, you can't undo and the list goes on and I'm just not going there (paper).
1) Filtering - you can organize the information so you don't have to filter using multiple criteria.

2) Searching - I checked that I can find any word in a dictionary nearly as fast as my computer.

3) Undoing - you can use pencil and eraser.

...and the list goes on...
 

S-Tolland

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I would definitely agree with Suelin23. I find paper really resonates with me and my learning style is mainly kinesthetic. I use paper for the majority of my lists (Someday/Maybe is still digital as a hangover from a previous sytem) and absolutely love my filofax which I take everywhere. It probably helps that I really enjoy writing, and have fairly neat handwriting, so my lists attract me when they are hand-written. I used word for a while, printing out my action lists, but I much prefer the hand-written system I am using now.
 
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supergtdman

Guest
TesTeq;91415 said:
1) Filtering - you can organize the information so you don't have to filter using multiple criteria.

2) Searching - I checked that I can find any word in a dictionary nearly as fast as my computer.

3) Undoing - you can use pencil and eraser.

...and the list goes on...
you have to organize information in both systems, filtering based on multiple criteria in a digital system doesn't replace organizing, it gives you dynamically generated lists without any effort to maintain, it's not possible with paper.

I don't see how finding a word in a dictionary could be compared to finding information in a well organized digital database though and so on but sure it's all possible with paper... in the same way you can use a paper map or use a GPS navigation.

I mean there are advantages to using paper but I don't think I see your point, TesTeq.
 

TesTeq

Registered
Dictionary = A-Z paper notes filing system.

supergtdman;91425 said:
I don't see how finding a word in a dictionary could be compared to finding information in a well organized digital database though and so on but sure it's all possible with paper...
Dictionary = A-Z paper notes filing system.

If your computer is on and your database software is running you surely will find info faster. But if your computer is off paper is faster.
 

Roger

Registered
supergtdman;91411 said:
You still have to chose which parts are paper and which are digital.
Well, yeah, absolutely, for sure. No argument here. I'm just speaking to the general misconception, which I'm happy to see you do not suffer from, that it's an all-or-nothing affair.

My point was actually that there is a lot of rewriting unless you simplify the system as much as possible. Not that you have to do a lot of rewriting because it's on paper. So you just have to keep things simple which might be beneficial.
I think I understand your point, but I happen to disagree with it. Which is fine; there's lots of room in GTD for disagreement.

Well, I guess you could get away without rewriting some stuff ever like action lists ( but still what if you want to rename an action or something? )
This is one of those things that I keep re-reading, expecting to understand it... but failing. And it may well be that our experiences with GTD are such that there will be some things we'll never agree on; that's fine.

Renaming a Next Action is something that's so bizarre and alien to my experiences, so totally outside what I can imagine anyone doing, that I really don't have any response to it.

So... yeah. It sounds like you're working your system just fine, so I'm in no position to throw stones. Different people work the system different ways, and they'll find their own advantages and disadvantages to the various media.

All the best,
Roger
 

cojo

Registered
I think the comment that it's a false dichotomy, and people talking about having digital as a backup, is really interesting. I mean...why can't I use both?

This might seem really anti-GTD at a first glance. DA loves his quote about how the man with two clocks is never sure what time it is. But stay with me.
I'm thinking, as an example, my iPhone...it's really great at holding contacts. If I had all my contacts on paper, it would be near-impossible to maintain, and huge. Much easier to have it synched up with Google & facebook. So, my iPhone might be my ideal place for contacts.

And I like my iPhone to send me reminders of events as alarms so I don't lose track of time. But that doesn't mean it has to be my full-time calendar.

One thing that attracted me to my paper system is that I used to keep it physically on my coffee table when I was at home. When I was watching TV, or tidying up, I'd take a glance at my calendar for the next day, and looking at the whole next week or month was just a flip of the page away.

So maybe this ends up looking like this: my paper calendar is my authoritative calendar. But during my weekly review, I go over my facebook event invites, emails, etc that might have fallen through the cracks, add them to my paper calendar, and then add a few reminders to my iPhone calendar. It won't be what I check when someone asks me if I'm available on such-and-such a date, but it will be helpful to keep me on task.

Too complex? I hope not. We'll see...
 

cojo

Registered
Roger;91443 said:
Renaming a Next Action is something that's so bizarre and alien to my experiences, so totally outside what I can imagine anyone doing, that I really don't have any response to it.
Things I used to re-write:
reoccurring meetings (and I'd just develop some kind of three-letter code for them)
next actions if, as I mentioned in my first post, it was the last thing on a long list I was otherwise throwing away

Next actions are supposed to be little chunks! Like 20 minutes long! So most of the time, they weren't on my list long enough to have to rename them...I remembered what they were from a few words...

Not a lot of rewriting, unless you suddenly decide you want your blue paper to be pink polka dots.
 

klpneely

Registered
one little notebook

I'm a gadget person- had the first Palm Pilot, moved up every year or two, and took my digital system with me at each upgrade. I tried all the new software, and often had more fun creating my system than I did using it. In fact, I killed a lot of time that way.

Recently, I started having the urge to try paper. A few dead batteries when I needed access, and frustration with what seemed to be an endless list of tasks were part of the motivation. I love new stuff, so I looked at FiloFax, and other beautiful notebooks and organizers. I made myself buy a cheap imitation to try first. I loved paper for my lists, but my calendar needs to stay digital because of my job. So I found much of the organizer unnecessary and annoyingly heavy. I've now spent about a month with a single 3x5 moleskine notebook, maybe 3 ounces, fits in my pocket, and goes with me everywhere. I love it. In the front, I have a page each for next actions by @category. In the middle, I started @agenda pages. In back, @project lists. I found nice re-stick tabs to mark my active next actions page and the start of the agenda section. It's incredibly simple, and works like a charm. In fact, the simplicity seems to be rubbing off, because I did my weekly review in an hour today- shorter than ever, and still thorough.

Someone mentioned the value of seeing one item left on a page when all else was crossed out- that's been great, and I take a minute right then to analyze why, then start a new page with the corrected next action and tear out the old one.

I also don't write down as much unnecessary stuff- I would sometimes have 10 tasks listed for a project. If I did a bunch at once, they didn't all get marked done, since they may not have even gotten marked Next Action yet. Then those clogged up my system until my next thorough review. On paper, if I have one next action on the list, and do it, that triggers the next one. I may do several more steps in that project, but they don't need to get written down. When I'm done working on that project, I only write down the one key next action.

So, I don't have any fancy gadgets, or even fancy FiloFax right now, but at least I get to go pick out a new Moleskine every month or so!
 
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