Last week my old Clié ran out of battery power, resulting in a blank Clié. I didn't lose any data, as I'd been syncing regularly. However, it became a bit of a hassle restoring the PDA this weekend, because one of my restored preferences seemed to hang the Clié at startup. I wiped out the Saved Preferences file, solved the hang and then spent time finding and re-entering many of my software serial numbers.
I like my Clié, yet it suffers from one problem — the need for constant care and feeding. In this case, keeping the battery charged and after failing this requirement, steps necessary to bring it back from the dead.
On Saturday night, I came across a very slick example of a paper based task management system on Dave Gray's Flickr collection. It was a paper-based system created by Bill Westerman, a consultant and former Palm fanatic. Bill uses a large Miquelrius squared notebook, and has developed a unique symbolic system for managing his tasks. I love the compact and simple symbols he's developed, and his use of a chart to plan out his day (see the image above).
I began a discussion with Bill and other readers in the comments, asking about details of Bill's system. I was struck by something Bill said in his reply, about using a Palm vs. his current system:
I was an absolute Palm fanatic for about five years (even wrote the original "Palm Mirror" application ... see utilware.com/mirror.html for details), but got tired of scratching away with the stylus all the time. Pen + paper is so much more gratifying.
Wow. I was amazed to see a Palm fanatic like Bill moving back to paper. Part of my hesitance has been my nearly 9 years as a Palm user, Palm advocate and fanatic. Last month, I came very close to ditching the Palm for schedule management, in favor of a Moleskine, but stopped short and have been using a Clié ever since.
The Back To Paper Movement
Today I came across another related piece called Why techies are leading the back-to-paper movement on Dave Gray's Communication Nation blog. The piece was written last November by Douglas Johnston, the creator of the DIY Planner. Doug talks about his addiction to technical systems and how he's found paper more effective for his needs. He talked specifically about this "Care and feeding" issue I've been reminded of with my wiped and restored Clié:
While I would carefully set up my list of 50-odd next actions, prioritising them, categorising them, setting alarms, and syncing between all the technology tools I had at my fingertips, Bettina would just glance at her book and get things done. This is not to say I was a slacker — on the contrary, I did manage to plough through an extraordinary amount of work and training — but a certain needless percentage of my time was spent tweaking my productivity system and trying to make it all work smoothly as a whole, mostly after-hours.
Amen brother! I know I have fiddled away countless hours tweaking my Palm or restoring it, or whatever the issue of the moment was. Now I start to wonder... was all of the tweaking and fiddling worth it? Even if that invested time was warranted, do I really want to continue caring for and feeding my PDA?
Not only does using paper planners, storyboards, index cards, whiteboards and flip charts allow us to see and experience things from entirely new vantage points, they force us to re-examine the execution and importance of the task at hand. It's the break from the worn-out tech-centred paradigm, with no restrictions to hinder you, not even battery life.
While we're on the topic of focus, paper does help slow down the world, if only for a mere moment, and collect your thoughts. Free from the white noise of websites, the endless pinging of the email inbox, the 120 menu items per mouse click, and the average of one thousand significant chunks of information per hour, we can devote the entirety of one instance to one topic. Clarity of thought, anyone?
This sounds so attractive. Taking the time to separate myself from tech solutions and getting back to a more tactile approach — maybe this is something to consider. Already I'm very analog with my logo, icon and web design sketches, why not try it for scheduling my personal life?
Then I wonder, what would life on paper look like? I tried paper for a few weeks, after losing the Zire 72. I truly enjoyed using paper. I appreciated seeing an entire week at a glance. I found myself writing thoughts in the Moleskine, something I'd never have bothered doing on the Palm.
I'm very close to trying a paper Moleskine Weekly planner for 6 months to see how I like it. While the flexible cover of the new 18 Month Moleskine is attractive, the 1 week per page format seems too cramped for my needs. I much prefer 1 week across 2 pages, like the traditional Moleskine Weekly Pocket planner. Since 2006 Weekly planners are hard to get or costly, I'd make my own Weekly planner out of a ruled Pocket Moleskine.
What About the Palm?
What about my large collection of contacts on the Palm? Well, my iPod nano could work reasonably well as an address book, as it syncs via iSync to the address book on the Mac. 90% of the time I'm reading contact information, so the loss of data entry isn't a huge deal. Besides, I can capture contact information on the Moleskine and enter it on the Mac when I get home.
I would still make good use of the Clié for reading blogs and emails away from the Mac, since this lets me read blogs and email, and respond to an occasional email. I'd probably still use My Bible, and Noah Pro, though maybe not. I'd need to think through what role the Clié might play in everyday life a little bit more.
Should I do It?
This week I'm going to think about a move back to paper. I want to make sure it's reasonable, practical and that the system will work the way I need it to. I'm 95% sure it will work well, but I want to brew on the idea a few more days.
What do you think? Please leave your comments, suggestions or ideas. I know others must have made the move to paper themselves, so I'm very keen to hear about your experiences and tips.
The back story by Bill Westerman
The Notebook by Bill Westerman
The GSD system by Bill Westerman
Bill Westerman's Miquelrius Planner
Why techies are leading the back-to-paper movement by Doug Johnston