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Digital Versus Analog: Which is Better for Productivity?

Digital Versus Analog_ Which is Better for Productivity_

Needle down. Crack… Pop…

“Let me tell you how it will be

There’s one for you, nineteen for me

Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”

Sound from the spinning black circle filled our living room and it was fantastic. Not that The Beatles’ Revolver album could ever sound bad. But there’s something special about hearing it on vinyl for the first time.

The whole analog experience presents something different in a world moving increasingly toward the streaming of digital files, apps, and transactions in the cloud. The act of touching and experiencing something with all of your senses is becoming rare.

Which is why, last year, I decided to go analog in another area … productivity.

When it came to improving productivity, digital just wasn’t working for me.

I found myself tapping a list of things to do that would sync across devices and be wherever I needed it. But the list would just grow. It didn’t help me actually take action on the items on the list.

The to-do items existed on some digital plane that was easy to ignore.

That’s when I decided to move to pen and paper

A close up of a notebook sitting on top of a wooden table

I stumbled across the Bullet Journal system. And I’ve never been more productive.

The system uses a simple framework and core methods to get you started. It’s also extremely flexible, allowing you to make modifications based on what works best for you.

The key here seems to be in the reviewing of your journal. Every day I’m in the journal reviewing what needs to be done. And at the beginning of each month I migrate any unfinished tasks or strike them from the list if they’re no longer important.

The system uses a simple key to mark tasks, notes, and events. There’s a section for things you’re planning in the future and you can group notes on the same subject into collections if necessary.  There’s something about that tactile process that makes it work.

I’ve even started leaving my laptop behind when I go to meetings.

Instead, I just bring my notebook and a pen to capture notes and to-do items. I find myself paying closer attention and taking more meaningful notes and capturing to-do items with more clarity.

Now, I’m actually completing the to-do items on my written list. And retaining more of the information in my notes. That’s not really a big surprise considering studies have shown that students who write out their notes learn more than those who type them on their laptop.

Analog slows you down and makes you more thoughtful.

My wife and I discussed how choosing an album to play on the record player becomes a more thoughtful process as you’re not able to tap a screen to skip a track. All of a sudden, your music doesn’t feel disposable.

I’d say the same applies to better productivity. The act of writing with pen and paper commits you to the process. At Constant Contact, my team and I have even started to focus on tangible tools and worksheets to help our customers create an email marketing plan that they’ll actually stick to.

It’s not that there aren’t some great digital tools to help you organize, but …

I’d argue that digital software can also become an excuse not to do things.

“I’ll get started on that project once I figure out how to use this program.”

The procrastinator in each of us loves these new toys. Because it gives us some time to, well, procrastinate.

Everything old is new again

A close up of a record player needle

In the future, I may look for ways to integrate the paper and digital world. For now, I’m enjoying some time away from the constant distraction of devices and apps and focusing my efforts on being more thoughtful about what really needs to be done.

Even if that’s just sitting in my living room enjoying Revolver.

What about you?

Where do you manage your to-do list — in the cloud or on paper? What helps you be more productive?

Dave Charest

Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.

27 thoughts on “Digital Versus Analog: Which is Better for Productivity?”

  1. Yep, I’m a notebook, pencil and eraser type of gal. I use a traditional diary which you can quickly change without faffing around trying to find the right button (designed by a technical person somewhere who never uses the darn thing) to delete an entry.

    I also write with a Lamy fountain pen because it’s more satisfying and I slow cook food – lol
    I do teach people how to use graphics software so I’m not a complete luddite but often there is no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater! (a British idiom)..

  2. Hi Dave!

    I checked out the Bullet Journal, and this seems like a great system. Although I have to say, pen and paper organization systems are disastrous for me personally. It’s too easy for me to put the book in a drawer somewhere and forget about it! I love visual systems with images and lists, so I have to go online! But what this post shows is that organization and productivity is a very personal thing, and the best way to be productive is to have something that is truly tailored to you. Last year I read a book called “Work Simply” by Carson Tate, who outlines four different productivity styles, and that system really helped me a lot. Thanks for the info!

  3. Hi Dave, While I’ll admit that productivity can always be a problem, I found that the use of a computer for writing (even daily to-do lists) really freed up my brain. Now I find it much easier to write. So I am a digital lady.

  4. I find I mix it up a bit. I use the Asana platform to track projects and keep all the information together in one place that can be accessed by others in the team and from anywhere – I travel a lot, it’s also good for mapping out the big picture. I use a daily checklist though for tasks as I find that checking online all the time is a nuisance and I need that physical contact as it makes it easier to focus during the day.

  5. Ah, yes. Feels nice to be in the company of someone who understands the usefulness of putting pen to paper. It’s what I recommend for frustrated clients dealing with overwhelm as they struggle to start and grow their solopreneur businesses.

  6. I actually use both plus a VA/PA (right now she does both jobs because I am still in the early growth stages).

    I will make all my lists/plans on paper — brainstorming what needs to be done for each project (which has its own sheet). Sometimes there’s a method to the madness and others just a jumbled list I need to reorganize later. I just use a number system for reorganizing. Then I have my VA/PA type up lists to mail to each of us with due dates to print. She adds to the calendars and sets reminders. I work best now with both kinds of reminders as my life has been taken over by the digital world.

    I use digital for my writings mostly as it is easier to fix mistakes and my OCD likes the backspace key so much more than having to restart an entire page over just because of an error. The environment thanks me too. (many trees now being saved)

    The only writing besides letter writing that I still use paper is poetry because poetry is messy and it does not trigger my OCD. Thankfully. However, my pencils (yep, I prefer those to pens any day) still have to have a nice, sharp point.

  7. Dave,
    I use a hybrid system.
    For all recurring/repeating actions in my life I use Remember the Milk. House maintenance, paperwork, cleaning, gardening, habits I want to build – anything I need to be reminded of periodically is put in the RTM system.
    This gives me peace of mind that nothing is going to slip through the cracks, once it’s on a recurring schedule I never have to think about it again.

    But for everything else – the creative stuff, the one-off tasks, ideas, the things that can be plugged in anytime…I love a notebook.
    And I’m planner fickle. One month a composition notebook, the next a pretty spiral bound that caught my eye. Occasionally, I download a planner someone is offering online and try that for awhile.
    I used to get upset at myself for doing this, until I read a book called, ‘Time Management for Unmanageable People’ by Ann McGee-Cooper. She claims that divergent thinkers thrive on switching up their planning system from time to time. Now I just see it as part of the creative process!

    PS. On a writing note – I love the record metaphor. Unique. The line, “All of a sudden, your music doesn’t feel disposable” struck a chord…as I was pushing the ‘skip’ button on my Pandora account…

  8. Hello!

    I’m young – 36 – so I too was there when the digital world came online. I’ve never really used it for much else besides shopping, building my websites, connecting with others and doing research. But my organization has ALWAYS been pen and paper. Mainly to-do lists, mapping out ideas, listing projects. Throughout undergrad and gradschool, I always had a lovely student planner and I use a paper diary for booking clients. Last year I invested in a Plum Paper Planner for personal (and some business) use and I really like it. Bullet Journaling was a bit too much for me – so another gorgeous planner for 2018! I always feel more accomplished when I see the check marks and strike-outs and more in control when I migrate things. In pretty colours to boot!

  9. Hey Dave,

    Franky speaking, I am not a big fan of pen and paper. I tried to manage my notes in a book but couldn’t get till there.

    You have brought up your experience how you felt everyone old as a new era. But not me. I would go with the digital products for sure.

    We all have our own preferences.
    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.

  10. Due to health concerns, I’ve had to reconfigure how I go about my daily routines. I have to be mindful of the time I spend in front of a screen.

    Enter a range of options I’ve tested:

    ~Dry-erase wall-sized calendars & white boards
    ~Notecards & cork board
    ~ Old-school Mead Composition books
    ~Upscale Moleskin
    ~Legal pads of various sizes & designs
    ~Colored pencils in a rainbow of hues
    ~Pens, both fountain & Biro

    The net result thus far has not been a loss of productivity, but a gain. An extra bonus has been a spike in creativity.

    Let the experiments continue…with Bullet Journals!

    Something I’ve heard of but not yet tried. Thank you for the nudge, Dave.

  11. Hey Dave,

    I personally love using cloud to keep all my documents, data & all other important things, I stopped using paper from almost 2 years & I think it saves me a lot of time, as keeping paper in a safe place is difficult, but we can keep cloud based data safe by using password and second step security.

    Anyways, Great Post Dave.

    ~ Jenny

  12. Hi Dave,

    I’ve always been an analog guy myself. A few years ago I felt a lot of pressure to go digital. Everyone was praising Evernote.

    I’m really happy analog has its street cred back. 🙂

    You’re the second person I’ve recently seen touting bullet journaling. I watched the intro. video and it looks like something I will enjoy, so thanks for covering it!

    Good article!


  13. Hi Dave,

    I just discovered your interesting article today. For me, nothing is faster than a pen and paper. I can write down my thoughts and ideas fast in my moleskin without using any apps or software in which typing and drawing can’t be done that fast as my thoughts are. I would lose ideas and thoughts. I tried to use apps but it doesn’t work out for me.

    I am working the whole day on my computer but my thoughts will stay analog. 😀


Comments are closed.


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