Why pen and paper are the best productivity tools

For this communicator, no app or technological device beats good old pen and paper. Do you agree?

In many ways, I’m a denizen of this age.

I scoff when others lament the demise of paper and print.

It’s all very well to talk about the smell and feel of new books when you only buy two a year.

I buy several books a month, and in the good old days before handheld readers, would give away dozens of books to friends every six months or so, lest the house get overrun!

I still buy paper books once in a while. I like the smell and feel of some books—especially books with a lot of art in them. I love getting books to review.

That said, you’ll have to pry my Kindle out of my cold, dead hands.

Notebook love

One way in which I’m old fashioned is using paper to make notes. I have a lot of notebooks for a variety of uses, including:

1. One memo pad for daily to-do lists, and to write short notes to myself and my team. It’s only a few inches long; I’ll write a few lines and throw away the page when I’m done.

2. One small notebook to write down what I’ve been working on.

3. Another small notebook for household lists.

4. Another little notebook to carry in my handbag in case I want to write something down during a coffee date.

5. One more lovely little notebook where I wrote early notes about my business, Markitty. I haven’t updated that one in months!

6. One notebook for blog ideas, which I started after Gini Dietrich suggested it. I’ve found this really useful.

7. One plain notebook I just started using to draw requirements for graphs I want to add to Markitty.

8. One notebook for everything. I’ve had it for a couple of years now, but haven’t made my way through one-third of it. It has different sections for meeting notes, task lists (longer versions that don’t fit in my little memo pad), ideas and blog posts.

9. A couple of older notebooks I’ve used for years, but still have some life in them. I usually take them out to meetings so I don’t have to lug around the giant notebook.

Those are all the notebooks I use regularly. The ones I use most are the little memo pad, the blog ideas notebook, the smaller of the two notebooks I use for meetings and the giant notebook for everything.

Of course, I also use the accomplished-tasks notebook that I don’t update as often as I should.

That’s 10 notebooks! I don’t blame you if you think I’m weird, but when I tell myself I should use fewer notebooks, I can’t settle on which one to give up.

Paper is better than digital

I do use digital task-management tools, as well—email, Trello and calendar—but I’m not giving up on paper. Here’s why:

1. It helps me focus. There is no Twitter to skip to or incoming email to catch my attention.

2. I love the satisfaction of physically checking off items on my list, and of crumpling the little sheet and throwing it away when I’m done.

3. Paper is more versatile. I can start writing what I want a graph to look like, but end up drawing it instead. I don’t have to know Photoshop, or figure out how to make the right kind of bar on PowerPoint.

4. Any time away from a backlit screen is a bonus. I spend most of the workday staring at my computer screen.

5. Paper is portable. If you’re like me and don’t enjoy writing long posts on your phone—and have no idea how to draw a graph on it—pen and paper is the easiest recording tool to carry around. And if you forgot your notebook, there’s always a napkin around somewhere.

Are you holding on to paper too, or do you think I’m a troglodyte?

What’s your favorite productivity tool?

Unmana Datta is the co-founder of Markitty, a tool that recommends actions to improve your online marketing. She writes about marketing on the Markitty blog and answers to @Unmana on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.


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