One of the things I often talk about when I give presentations on Personal Productivity is that more people should Sync To Paper. I first had this idea in 2006 while working on a completely overwhelming project at my last job. I was already deeply into using OneNote, which was rather new at the time, so I was putting everything onto my laptop. I was convinced that my unorganized brain could "get organized" if I just wrote everything down in some cloud-based text file.
The problem is, at least for me, is that there isn't a great way to see the big picture when you've just got pixels to look at. Life is much higher resolution than I think folks realize. I'm frankly surprised that so many of you can feel organized and productive on those 11" laptops. What a tiny window into your life!
Anyway, when I was working on this huge project the database was extremely complex. Hundreds of tables and relationships to manage. It was far too much for anyone to keep in their heads or view on a screen. So they turned to the plotter. Remember those? The database team would print out massive posters and hang them on the wall. They'd stand together in front of them and stare and think.
You see syncing to paper a lot with user interface/user experience teams (UI/UX). We'll wallpaper entire hallways with mockups of what the system should look like, putting them in high traffic areas so everyone can absorb them and collaborate.
When my life is overwhelming and I am at PEAK STRESS, I do a three things.
- I get a haircut, because at least I got that handled.
- I clean my office, so I'm not reminded of the chaos of my life by the chaos of clutter around me.
- And I sync to paper. I get a Moleskine notebook (Here's how to pronounce Moleskine, BTW) and I find a clear page and I write down what's stressing me out. I sync all my devices to paper. Calendars, Todos, thoughts, life, to paper.
The physicality of it is very satisfying in a visceral way. I've tried to do the same on a Surface or iPad with a stylus, but it doesn't work for me. The removal of technology and the scratch of a good quality pen on paper (I use a space pen) is very cathartic. Often I'm working on solving a technical problem so stepping away from tech is as important as the paper. It's a forced context switch. Even more, as a kinesthetic learner I feel like the moving of my hands differently, even if I never refer to the written notes again, the process helps cement the issues.
True Story: If you watch the Microsoft BUILD Keynote (a big deal, in tech circles) you'll see me come out for my 15 minute demo holding my Moleskine notebook. No one else does this. In fact, they tease me a little about my notebook. In fact, I'm usually given a 30 page typed script to memorize. It includes screenshots, talking points, gotchas, demo instructions, passwords, all the stuff I need for my demo. Folks work on these scripts for weeks and then deliver them to me. It's VERY stressful for everyone. We sit together for days and go over these huge documents and I freak out and panic and then get out my Moleskine and synthesize 30 pages into one. Here's what I took on stage with me for the BUILD 2015 keynote. Insane isn't it? But without it I would have freaked out. Now the stage crew knows me as "the guy with the notebook." And yes, I know my handwriting sucks and that this is an unintelligible pile. It still worked, and worked well. ;)
When I'm completely a mess OR I'm trying to get my head around a large problem, I'll cover the floor with paper, or find a wall or large whiteboard and try to work it out.
We focus on touchscreen and pinch gestures a lot these days, but for me "zoom out" means literally and figuratively taking a step back from a piece of paper and trying to absorb the big picture.
Paper is the cheapest retina display you'll ever use. Give it a try, at least until I can afford a Surface Hub for my office. ;)
Do you sync to paper? How does it work for you?
UPDATE: I was pointed to a post from Robert Greiner who promotes the same idea! Great minds think alike. I encourage you to also read his thoughts on the concept, as they are different from mine. He likes the temporary aspect of paper, and the pain of writing as ways to keep one focused.
* Messy Moleskine photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy and used under Creative Commons