It is interesting how people view reminders. I find those to be incredibly stressful, in a weird subtle way. To me, when I rely on reminders I’m not managing things well. When I am, I don’t need reminders. Whereas others are stressed / concerned without them.
The “best” pure digital system I ran was all built in Workflowy, no reminders there either.
On the benefits of writing by hand: are there any comparison studies that look at digital natives vs. us old farts that wrote by hand into adulthood? I always wonder if the benefits are simply baked in during your formative years vs. anything specific. Case in point, I generally think through topics better on paper as it is free from. However, when I do a deep dive into a topic I like to use freewriting as described by Mark Levy in Accidental Genius. This is best accomplished via typing as it is a speed of thought exercise.
What would drive you to use paper?
I am generally so sick of looking at screens that I become agitated over the course of the day. Anything I can carve out that allows me to step away is helpful.
I’ve found that searching for tasks is not really something I need to do. Searching for notes and reference material on the other hand, is necessary. An analog system can function for me, as long as notes get stored digitally.
Another one of my issues, that lends itself to paper, is that I take on way more that I should. Stupidly more. With a digital system, it is very easy to hide, filter, defer. With the analog method I’m using, I have to face the reality of what I’ve committed too.
What does your system look like?
Analog vs. Digital Vs. Hybrid: People are a bit loose on when they call something a hybrid system. I would imagine most folks in 2018 who are analog, are actually hybrid. Do you use email or a phone? Or postcards and carrier pigeons? I think you could sell that service in certain cities, a company that receives your email, prints it, and sends a carrier pigeon to your home. Then reverses the process for your replies. Digital calendars are required in a corporate space. They just are.
Projects / Input: I work on several projects with multiple organizations that do not share collaboration tools, so I’m Asana, Smartsheet, basecamp, etc. as a normal course of my work. I believe this fracturing is a key factor in my recent attempts of leveraging analog systems. In my last role, there weren’t multiple systems so I set my own up in workflowy and was perfectly happy for 4 years. The job change and input source explosion broke that for some reason.
I use a notebook to funnel that all into a single workstream, or at least the active / in scope items to focus on . I build delivery plans that need to be shared or collaborated within Smartsheet. Email, chat services, and a digital calendar are used.
Capture: Items get dropped into the relevant systems - i.e. Asana project items get pushed back into those tools. I keep project notes digitally so they are searchable. If I’m putting something in one of the many systems, I copy it into my notes as well. Or generally, the reverse is occurring. When I’m driving, I’ll dictate into Drafts, then push it (digital or analog) to the appropriate place the next time I do an email check. i also carry around a small digital recorder. When I go for a walk, I don’t like taking my phone but like to capture ideas that pop up. Quick recording that I process later. I also will carry around a small rite-in-the-rain notebook to write things down. Just depends how accessible my hands are at the time. Again, when I do a scheduled email check I’ll process the other inboxes.
Reminders: Outside of actual timed events, I really don’t use any sort of digital reminders, for reasons outlined above. I limit notifications on services as much as possible.
Storage: Long term thinking, future ideas, out of scope projects, notes on family items, key information, etc. - essentially anything that may need to be referenced outside the lifespan of a single notebook gets typed / scanned and stored digitally.
I use a variant of Mark Forster’s autofocus system(s). Summary of how that part of it works:
Maintain a master running list of ideas that come up, tasks to complete, etc. I capture anything here but I only keep in scope items here. In Scope vs. Out of scope below.
Due dates or similar information is at the left hand side of the line, so it is easily visible when scanning
At the start of the day, look through the entire list once. No actions or decisions are made during this period.
Go back to the start of the list and put a dot next to important, urgent, or tasks that jump out to be worked on. There are many suggested ways on Mark’s site on how to determine where to focus. His idea is to blend your rational mind and your intuition. I generally get a gut feeling on what is important. Kind of weird.
I’ll generally copy those marked items down to a note card and dig in.
I’ll cycle around the note card items until they are done or they don’t seem relevant. I’ll generally go back to the whole list and repeat the pull 2-4 times per day.
New urgent items get added to the notecard and the end of the list.
If you complete a task, you cross it out. If you work on a task, but don’t complete it, you cross it out and add it back to the end of the list. This bit has been surprisingly helpful at removing resistance. I don’t have to complete something to get the dopamine hit of crossing it out, just take some action.
when you get orphaned items on pages - decide whether they aren’t relevant any more of if they are out of scope. Process them accordingly, or just cross them out and add them to the end of the list.
When there isn’t anything urgent or pressing, I skip the dotting / note card focus bit and go pure autofocus. Scan down the list until I’m drawn to work on something and then work on it. Nice way to kill through a bunch of old stuff.
That is the engine behind the whole process. Now, I have separate pages (collections) for project or ideas that I’m building out. I may move their tasks over to the master list or I may add “work on the next item in project x” to the list. I add “review out of scope project y” and similar items to the list.
I tend to do a last run through at the end of the day and select items for the next morning vs. start the day with the scanning. When I need to, I’ll setup time blocks with the relevant items. When I don’t, I don’t.
I’ve been working in 6 week blocks with some week by week planning. Those are written out in the notebook and are referenced during the week to make sure we are on track.
I add everything to the list as it comes up. If I determine that something is out of scope currently, I’ll cross it out and add it to the project storage. For example, in the middle of the day I have a random idea to research something for a book I’d like to write. I’ll jot it down in the master list and when I come back to it, I’ll decide it is out of scope and remove it to the relevant location I’m capturing ideas for that project. Generally a sheet in Ulysses. That out of scope project will have a reminder or a tickler task in the master list.
I clean the list up and rewrite it as necessary. I’m not particularly precious about it. I like the flexibility of paper in this regard: I added a “task” that was a quick sketch of a process flow that popped in my head for a project I was working on. I was on a call, and didn’t want to lose it. Now I have a task that is a drawing. Kind of neat. I tend to just migrate orphaned tasks to the end of the list vs. start the list from scratch, however I’m leaning towards a fresh rewrite every 4-6 weeks to force a weeding of the list.
I generally take notes by hand, either in my notebook or on an ipad. These are then type / converted to text and stored in appropriate locations.
Work vs. Personal: Currently, I keep a master list of both and a sublist of just personal. I have a small rite-in-the-rain notebook that I carry everywhere, and that is where I’ll jot the personal items into or copy from the master list in the primary notebook. The dual entry doesn’t bother me so far, however I could see it being an issue for some. I just sync them up at the end of the day. I keep the separate list so I don’t have to look at work items when I’m off, however I do like to be able to see both in context.
The next time I refresh my list, I may use what Mark Forster calls the “stalactite / stalagmite” method. When you’re adding items to a new list page, work items are added from the top down and personal items are added from the bottom up. When they meet, you draw a line. Then you can cover one or the other up and see just the relevant context.