After the 20-minute walk to the train station, I realized I’d forgotten my to-do list at the office.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember what I’d written. I couldn’t. Of course not! The entire point was to outsource, like tech support to India, manufacturing to China, and scarf tying to France.
Minutes before the train pulled in with a conversation-obliterating roar, I called my co-worker. If it’d just been an over night I probably could’ve coped. But I planned to work from home the next day. This was an efficiency Hail Mary.
“Do you see scrap paper on my desk? Can you read me what it says?”
I coached her through my handwriting when she stumbled until all items were transmitted.
“Thank you so much!” I said. Too loudly, with too much gusto.
While it’s weird I’m beside myself without crucial pieces of paper, I’m gaining company. According to “Why Paper is the Real ‘Killer App’” from the BBC online, the rest of you (finally) see the beauty in my ways. The best productivity tool is everywhere. Here are some great things about predictable paper:
Paper is inherently without system freezes or battery drains but offers unlimited flexibility. Burst into diagrams or sketches at will. Or just flip a page if you come up with an unrelated idea. No new document to name. If paper feels flimsy and inexpensive enough to forget, photograph your notes and upload them to the cloud. (When my to-do list nightmare occurred I didn’t own a smartphone and the cloud was just forming)
By now, it’s clear that life is what happens while we stare at our phones. Less time in front of a screen can only help us. Plus, engaging your senses centers you. This is why yogis are obsessed with their breath. It brings you precisely where you are, right now. Because the time is always, exclusively, now. Even if you’re completing an objectively boring thing, like a grocery list, pay total attention.
It's also rewarding to physically produce something. Part of our society-wide whining about the good old days comes from the lack of satisfaction we feel from completing digital tasks. When your results and the work to produce them are intangible, it can feel like you’ve done nothing.
Process, don't parrot: from the BBC article, “In three studies, researchers found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. Those who took written notes had a better understanding of the material and remembered more of it because they had to mentally process information rather than type it verbatim.”
Since we’re here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention paper’s natural companion—the mighty pencil. With the exception of one time in third grade, when I over sharpened and bore down too hard on the point, which broke off and lodged in my left eye, pencils and I get along great.
They are satisfying—immediate and old school with a whispery scribble. I keep them in my purses, especially the soft leather and suede ones, so I never inadvertently ink them.
Besides, ink congeals in cold air. And anti-gravity situations. Using pencil always reminds me of that old Space Race story: Americans were slaving away, desperate to engineer a pen that could write in space…while the Soviets used pencil. This is just a legend, with both parties using a specially designed pen, but the fact remains…no need to reinvent the wheel, unless you’re going to space.
If you’re looking for a brand, Dixon Ticonderoga—the yellow pencils you avoided in elementary school, citing lack of cartoon characters—is the way to go.
However, pencils require sharpening. I have you covered there, too. Use the KUM pencil sharpener. Made in Germany and sold for fewer than two dollars (!!!) at an art supply store, it's so hefty I felt like I'd purchased a weapon. And I’m a pacifist. Economical in every way: size, price, and pencil gobbling—it slices just enough wood perfectly, symmetrically, reliably—it’s as elegant as it is functional. I think it even comes with a replacement blade.
Try writing notes by hand only for a couple days. Then go for a week. What feels different? Let me know!
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