37 Comments

Summary:

As web workers, we have access to many online to do list managers like Remember The Milk, 37Signals’ Ta-da Lists, and Zoho Planner. But I prefer pen and paper, and I’m not the only one. In his summary of Web 2.0 Summit demos, Richard MacManus admits […]

pen and paperAs web workers, we have access to many online to do list managers like Remember The Milk, 37Signals’ Ta-da Lists, and Zoho Planner. But I prefer pen and paper, and I’m not the only one. In his summary of Web 2.0 Summit demos, Richard MacManus admits he uses paper notebooks. Speaking about drawing his business card cartoons, gapingvoid’s Hugh MacLeod says “there’s a certain je ne sais quoi you only get with ink on paper.” And we all know people who can’t live without their Moleskines.

How is pen on paper better than online or electronic to do lists?


Using pen on paper just feels good. You need the right paper and the right pen–an old Bic on a decrepit yellow sticky note won’t get you to tactile nirvana–but with proper equipment, isn’t it much more satisfying to write a new to do item onto a piece of paper than to type it into your laptop or thumb it into your Treo? What about that triumphant feeling when you scribble off something you’ve finished? Clicking a checkbox with your mouse doesn’t compare.

You can’t beat pen and paper’s mobility and accessibility. Take your paper notebooks or your index cards or your looseleaf lists anywhere and use them anywhere, even if you don’t have network access, electricity, or battery power.

Never hassle over synchronizing your to do list across multiple devices again. If you do capture items here and there on bits of paper, consolidating is easy: just write it all onto your master list when you get the chance.

No application lock-in. Getting tired of Moleskines? Want to try something snazzier, like Paperblanks or Rhodia notebooks? No problem–just buy a new brand, transfer anything you need to by hand, and you’ve switched. No wrangling with data export and import, no operating system compatibility worries, no software installation or configuration required.

Pen on paper gets you away from the computer. It can be hard on your wrists, your eyes, and your back to work at a computer constantly. Using a Blackberry can leave you in need of a hand massage. Writing on a paper to do list might be just the ergonomic break your body needs.

Maybe one day I’ll switch to an online personal planner. Chris just reviewed Stikkit, which sounds pretty cool. Liz had some good ideas for integrating to do lists into gmail. For now, though, I’m sticking with paper and pen. What about you?

  1. [...] For those of you who don’t know who Anne is, check out her most excellent blog, Anne 2.0. She is a web technologist, blogger, and industry analyst who lives and works in Denver, Colorado. She is so living the WWD life. She is going to be a great addition to the site, and with her fresh insights, and sharp observations, she is going to help WWD even better. I know I am a fan, and my bet is all of you are going to love her writings. Welcome Anne! Check out her debut post… why paper to-do lists rock! And as Steve Jobs says, one more thing: by popular demand, we have added forums to Web Worker Daily. Check them out and let us know what other features we should add to the site. [...]

    Share
  2. After seeing David Seah’s Printable CEO series I find his Emergent Task Timer works great as a to do list. It has space for your to do items and room for any other items that come up during the day.

    Share
  3. I used pen and paper for a long time and still do while “on the move”, but I find a simple Notepad/Textmate style to do list invaluable. Why?

    – I can always read my typing – not always true about my writing :-

    Share
  4. I used pen and paper for a long time and still do while “on the move”, but I find a simple Notepad/Textmate style to do list invaluable. Why?

    – I can always read my typing – not always true about my writing
    – I can easily re-order tasks which I almost always have to do. Try re-ordering 30 tasks on a piece of paper – ten times. Then trying doing the same using cut and pase on a laptop . . .
    – I can find tasks by keyword so I can afford to have plenty of “some day” tasks and just find them via search.
    – I can easily save my historic “done” tasks – again for searching by project or other key words down the line.

    Share
  5. Michael: that emergent task timer looks useful, though I’m not sure I’m ready to know how much time I’m spending surfing the web each day.

    Peter: with my paper to do lists, you’re right, I don’t get a searchable archive. I’m the kind of person who likes to throw out stuff as soon as I’m finished with it, get it behind me, so that works okay, but it’s not for everyone. Text files do seem like a good way to avoid the overhead of a dedicated online to do list manager but still reap the benefits you mention.

    Share
  6. I use paper only to put down thoughts, because jotting down thoughts on keyboard is not so intuitive and can not do any freehand drawings. Once I figure out what to do, I will use electronic versions of task lists. ( (I am buying a wacom intuos this week, so I will get rid of paper, almost always. However, I regularly take a print out with tasks for a week a head and keep it always in my pocket, to track and jot down new ones when I am away from my computer.) The electronic versions have lots of advantages over note book. I am listing four reasons why I prefer electronic versions over paper.

    1. View: Can see pending tasks based on priority and category. For example, a click will throw out all items I need to buy at a local mall while another click will throw out all phone calls I need to make today.
    2. Prioritization & Tracking : Adjusting priorities is my favourite option, that is available only with electonic versions. And it is so painful to postpone or trackdown missing items from last month on paper.
    3. Alerts: Most important and invaluable features of all electronic versions. SMS /Email alerts have no counter part on paper. It is quite natural to be carried away in some or the other thing. An SMS in time will keep you focused.
    4. Sharing: I can share selected items from my todo lists with friends and family at any point and we can finish them more effectively. With a notebook approach, its a pain to do so.

    For those strained by a computer, here is a tip, try out Dragon Naturally speaking and intuoso. I am a software developer for almost 7 years, and I understand the pain. But don’t let that take away the goodies the electronic versions bring in. When it comes to effectiveness, paper can’t beat electronic versions.

    Share
  7. I am with Peter. All my reasons for doing the electronic thing are much in line with his (my handwriting is completely illegible).

    I do like the idea of the wacom tablets thought. I do have a tendency to brainstorm on a whiteboard or piece of paper (although I am using Freemind more and more every day), so a tablet would be ideal.

    Share
  8. “No application lock-in”
    Perhaps not technically, but psychologically… just trying prying a Moleskine out of the hands of one of the devoted. ; )

    There’s some evidence that the way you move your hand when you write or sketch on paper can improve the retention and recall (and sometimes even understanding) of what you write, in a way that doesn’t happen with typing words. The intimate brain connection between thinking and doing (including mirror neurons and all that) keeps pointing to more reasons to include more of the body–more movement–when we’re in the process of thinking.

    For me, the difference between mind-mapping vs. typing a list–even if the topic is the same–is dramatic. I heart my Wacom, but paper still turns me on the most.

    Thanks for this post! And congratulations on being here; I’m looking forward to your posts here.

    Share
  9. I was about to invoke Kathy’s name in the context of tablets for data entry, and here she is suggesting them herself. How great. I love the idea of combining the pleasures of writing and doodling with the benefits of digital information capture.

    Share
  10. Anne – i totally agree with using paper. Most of the time its much more convenient to jot down ideas when on the go, and especially when you cant stand sitting in front on the computer and need some semi- downtime. I use notebooks all the time. I usually end up transferring ideas to Google Docs where I can share, search and edit them easily.

    My only pet peeves with paper notebooks.. my daughter loves to rip pages out, scribble on my pages, spill stuff on then, crinkle pages, and my cat loves to eat them, and sleep on them. Then again, they do those things to my computers too! But all that stuff makes me smile, so i guess its not that bad after all.

    PS.. Welcome to the WebWorkerDaily team!

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post