I suggest that you introduce more paper into your life.
Take a step backwards? Yes. I feel we moved too quickly and too completely into the digital world. It’s as though our goal were not to increase productivity, but to eliminate paperwork, or to start using the latest electronic device, app, or software that is introduced. For many of us, especially those struggling with ADHD-like symptoms, personal productivity has decreased while stress levels climbed. I’ll explain other reasons for this in a later article.
But take a paper planner for instance. It serves to ground me. I can touch it and feel it and see my scheduled projects the moment I open it. Writing down an appointment solidifies that meeting in my mind, while dictating it to a handheld device makes little impact, little commitment, and little chance I will even recall it the next morning. Using a paper planner forces me to commit myself to doing priority tasks in specific time periods, which provide deadlines for each 90-minute writing session and other important activities. A deadline serves as a corollary to Parkinson’s law – work gets done in the time available.
A pen in hand generates focus, attention, commitment, and a “do it now” mindset – something those with electronic “To Do” lists lack. Written down, a name or number stays in working memory longer and has a greater chance of making it into long-term memory for later recall. Fast is not necessarily better; it’s just faster.
Similarly, I prefer to make handwritten notes while on the telephone, jot ideas on a steno pad instead of reaching for my iPhone, write notes on an “Action Sheet” in meetings, and heaven forbid, I even occasionally write personal notes on hardcopy birthday cards and send them by snail mail. A handwritten note on a card not only says you remembered, but that you also cared.
One big advantage of using paper planners is that you never lose sight of your past. You have a permanent record in your own unique handwriting – your dreams, goals, achievements, activities, and highlights of a lifetime. Your planners serve as journals or diaries – personal mementos of a flesh-and-blood unique individual, complete with likes, dislikes, and personality quirks. You leave footprints long after you have passed on.
You could record the same information in an electronic handheld device; but it’s very unlikely to happen. The purpose of an electronic handheld device is to get things done faster, not to record or recall them. But it’s easy to scribble notes, times, places, and directions in a hardcopy planner. And it has a presence and permanence that seems to slow down the passage of time.
I record events in my planner after the fact as well. If I meet someone by chance or decide on the spur of the moment to attend a movie or go to a restaurant, the first thing I do when I get home after the event is jot the information into my planner – the time, place, and phone number of the restaurant and so on. At the end of each year, I print the year on the spine of my planner and store it with others in chronological order in my bookcase. I can’t count the number of times I have re-visited pages to retrieve a name, place, or phone number concerning someone I had met and now needed to contact. I also use my planner as a journal. There is plenty of space at the right side of each weekly calendar to jot down ideas, quotes, etc., along with the reminders of things you must do in the future.
My life story is in those planners – from my teen years (little pocket calendars) through college, and my fifty plus years as an entrepreneur, husband, father, and eventually grandfather. As I close out my eighties and the threat of dementia looms, I take solace in the fact that I will never lose my memories. They are recorded for me as well as for my offspring – in greater detail than ancestry.com.
There is a place for digital devices. And I do own an iPad, iPhone, laptop, laser printer, and subscribe to Zoom, PayPal, and a variety of social media sites. And like most people I do online banking, use e-transfers, correspond using email, text messaging, and Facetime. I also rely on website sales and my book royalties to supplement my old age security payments. But I also use a paper planner and a hard copy follow-up file system, a telephone log booklet, paper checklists, note pads, sticky notes. I read more hardcopy books than eBooks.
Paperwork adds structure to my life – because paperwork is structure. I am comforted and calmed by the feel of pen on paper. I still use “To Do” lists within my planner and I write all my books longhand before dictating them to my laptop via voice-activated software. I read hardcopy books from Amazon with a highlighter in hand, and jot down ideas and comments on the pages as I read. Those ideas, quotes, and suggestions frequently appear in books that I write on similar topics.
You may not want to use a planning calendar to the extent that I do. But I strongly recommend that you schedule time every weekday to work on your priority projects, whether they include writing a book, or something else. As Austin Kleon remarks in his book, Steal like an artist, “Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.” He mentions that Jerry Seinfeld has a calendar method that helps him stick to his daily joke writing.
The reintroduction of paper into our lives also serves to buffer screen time, or at least introduce non-screen breaks. Excessive screen time, (smartphones, laptops, social media, TV etc.), is thought to produce ADHD-like symptoms. This can include procrastination, impulsive behavior, lack of focus, trouble sleeping, and difficulty with time management. Smartphones alone are frequently used as portable offices, allowing one to work anywhere at any time, whether that is while traveling, eating, attending a meeting, or “enjoying” your son’s baseball game.
The next time you find yourself waiting at a doctor’s office, a company lobby, or an airport lounge, try redeeming the time with paperwork instead of a laptop or smartphone. Cursive writing is good for the brain as well as being a stress reliever. It’s certainly better for cognitive development than tapping keys on a laptop or other electronic device. The brain, like the body, loves variety in its activities. A 2021 study of 667 iPhone users by SolitaireD revealed that on average, people spend 39 hours and 54 minutes a week on their ‘phone. I’ll wager only a small portion of that time is productive.
Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. I’ll say more about that statement in my next blog article.