When Paper Works Better than Bits and Bytes

paper planner Editor’s Note: Today we feature a guest post about integrating digital devices and paper planning systems by time management expert Francis Wade.

Does it always make sense to upgrade your electronic gadget?

Recently, some of my worst fears were realized as I made a fundamental and important change to my time management system – I gave up my beloved but antiquated Palm Tungsten T2 for a new Blackberry Curve 8320.

I faced the challenge of going completely digital after spending more than a decade carrying my Tungsten in a wallet that included a paper pad and a pen, which I used to collect information and new demands on my time for later processing.

I knew that I wanted to continue the practice of having a portable, synchronized calendar, address book and task-lists that matched the information on my laptop, but making this switch would require other changes.

How would I continue to capture new information in an electronic device as quickly as I could on paper?

The Downside of Digital Notetaking

My two or three attempts to replace the tried and true paper/pen combination over the past 15 years failed dismally, as I could never get the Palm to work as a capture point, returning to paper for the following reasons:

  • Paper never needs batteries
  • Paper doesn’t mind getting wet, hot or cold
  • Printing is a natural activity, while the handwriting recognition of the Tungsten was decidedly unnatural and error-prone

Now that I am using a Blackberry, paper still reigns supreme as a point of capture because:

  • Paper never makes me wait while it boots up (which as Blackberry users know, can take an eternity)
  • My Blackberry is often being used to do other things when I need to capture information — it’s extremely awkward to talk on the phone while recording someone’s phone number
  • Paper never requires a password to use after laying idle for a few minutes
  • Paper never needs to be rebooted because of a “memory leak”

 At these moments I have reverted to scrambling for pen and paper in odd places, often signaling to other people to pass me something to write on. The fact is, when I have an idea or want to record some important piece of information, I don’t want to have to wait for a piece of machinery to warm itself up before I can use it.

The essence of good capturing lies in its speed, and I am fully aware that I am now much slower at capturing than I was before. I have taken a step backwards.

A Case for Hybrid Planning?

The solution seems to be a simple one. Someone needs to create a wallet for the Blackberry that has space for both pad and pen. My old Palm wallet came with a very thin pen no wider than the average refill, and the paper I used had to be cut down to size to fit a slim profile – a perfect solution. 

Unfortunately, I believe that in the absence of such a wallet many users have also regressed, and revert to using personal memory at those moments when their Blackberry is “busy.” This is a tragic error, and offers a clear case in which poorly adapted technology makes things much, much worse.

If you have come across a wallet that would do the trick, please let me know!

Francis Wade is a time management 2.0 researcher who offers the MyTimeDesign and NewHabits programs from his website: 2time-sys.com
[photo by computationally.intractable]

2 thoughts on “When Paper Works Better than Bits and Bytes

  1. I use a 2 page per day wirebound daytimer planner in a leather wallet which fits in my hip pocket. When I am on the phone on my Blackberry is busy otherwise I jot notes. During my daily review I transfer whatever I want for long term storage into my Blackberry.

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