Paper is The Most Flexible Productivity Platform

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 Whether it’s a Moleskine, index cards, a regular notebook or just loose-leaf, paper can be one of the most flexible tools in your arsenal. Let’s take a look at ten ways you can use paper yourself.

Hipster PDA

Here’s the thing you always know is going to be mentioned when an article’s title combines the words “paper” and “productivity” — it’s the classic Hipster PDA. Merlin Mann came up with the idea in 2004 when he got sick of carrying his Palm V around. Essentially, the “device” intends to replicate the organizational functions of a PDA without the electricity and is made from index cards.

Capturing Memory Leaks

Often termed ubiquitous capture, there are a gazillion powered options for capturing ideas, forgotten tasks and other memory leaks in one of those “oh no!” moments. Nothing really does beat pen and paper, though — it won’t disappear when there’s no power or crash and freeze before you can hit the Ctrl+S. Paper is easily accessible and reliable. Unless, of course, you mix coffee, children and small spaces.

Brain Dump

In my mind, there’s something demanding about an empty word processor window, but something freeing about a blank sheet of paper. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I spend a heck of a lot of time working in word processors, but when I need to sweep my mind and get all the loose ends down the easiest, fastest, and most comprehensive way involves paper. I can empty my brain organically with lines and free association and all that literary-hippy stuff, rather than facing the cold, harsh linearity of the word processor.

Task Lists

I have always found that the most effective task lists for a one-day timeframe are paper-based. While I’ll use software to manage tasks in the greater scheme of things, my day’s plan of action is always mapped out on paper — at least those days where I’m reasonably effective are! You can read a bit more about my method of doing things here, and I strongly urge everyone to consider trialing this method. Task management software is so ubiquitous these days that many people don’t even give paper a week or two’s chance.

DIY Planner

Here’s a resource that deserves a section of its own: DIY Planner. This website hosts a plethora of printables for all sorts of things — productivity, writing tools, psychology, and more. Unfortunately it can be a bit tough to separate the printables from the articles (not that there’s anything wrong with the articles, but sometimes you just want to get straight to the goodies). Despite that, it’s still worth a good look-through. Sure, you need a computer and a printer in the first place so it’s not exclusively powerless. Just make sure to stock up before the power grid explodes!

Flash cards

Every now and then we need to memorize things. Whether you’re learning some vocabulary in a new language or the lines in your presentation, sometimes the old-fashioned flash card method is the way to go. While there are apps for the computer and most phones that do this it can be simply more convenient to whip out a stack of cards in your wallet when you’re out and about. Why waste those idle moments?

Idea Generation

When my main income source was freelance writing, every couple of weeks I’d run dry on ideas. When you’re writing for more than fourteen hours a day it’s not hard to do at all. So I’d schedule a block of time every two weeks to sit down with a pen and one of those large drawing notebooks (like a Moleskine but with the wire binding) and brainstorm enough ideas to last a few weeks, and sometimes a month or two. I always kept the excess in an emergency reserve in case I came up dry two weeks later.

As I mentioned when I wrote about brain dumping, paper doesn’t have to be as linear as a word processor, so it’s that much easier to come up with more ideas on paper just by drawing lines and creating strange associations between ideas.

Organize Contacts

You could use an old-fashioned address book and put it by the phone. You could keep regular print-outs for everyone in your computer-based contact manager plus notes and client histories in a binder, since if your only backup of your digital address book was accidentally wiped you could be out of business.

Or you could organize your contacts by throwing every business card you ever receive into a binder. Pretty cool, eh?

Organizing Your Family Life

A whole lot of information flows through the family home. Important information from your doctor, permission slips to sign for the kid’s school, family events and birthdays to remember, the list goes on. Unclutterer offers an excellent paper-based idea to help you keep your home life as organized as your work life: the central home binder.

A Funnel for Your Car

We can’t finish this list without including one of the most common uses for paper that has persisted for decades.

Well, not really — I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I do end up trying one day since our car is so poorly stocked; Brett Kelly of Cranking Widgets brings us the index card funnel.