Back to Pen and Paper

Laptops have changed our lives in amazing ways, but they’re not always the perfect tool for the job.

Even with so-called “distraction free writing tools” like WriteRoom (which I use regularly), it’s still far too easy to get distracted when working on the laptop. Twitter, Email, Facebook, Google, notifications, pop-ups, they’re always there to lure us away from the task at hand.

Unless you have bulletproof self control, the laptop is sometimes a fantastic productivity tool, and other times a just big time waster.

Lately I’ve gotten back to pen and paper for planning and ideation. There is something incredibly freeing about sitting down with nothing more than a pen, a blank page and your thoughts.

I used to regularly keep a notebook but ditched it at some point as laptops got smaller and smaller. The MacBook Air I work on now is barely bigger than some notebooks I used to carry. Technology won out for a while, and I feel like my creativity and productivity took a hit while I was notebook-less.

If you haven’t tried writing in a notebook for a while, here are a few ideas about how to get started.

First, get something small enough to carry around with you regularly, but not too small to write much in.

I like the medium sized Moleskin notebooks, about 5" by 8". It doesn’t fit in my pocket, but isn’t really noticeable in my bag. I prefer notebooks with graphed lines, so I can sketch designs and other structured ideas, but you might find them distracting. I hear Field Notes notebooks are great if you want something smaller.

Next, write in your new notebook right away after you get it. Don’t wait. I made the mistake of waiting. A few weeks went by before I started using it because I never felt like anything was worthy of taking up the first page. I ended up starting on the second page, and the first page continues to sit blank.

I tend to write a few types of things in my notebook: 1) “to-do” lists that have been floating around in my head, 2) detailed plans for bigger upcoming projects, and 3) thoughts on new ideas that need to be fleshed out. I also keep notes on my thrice weekly workouts.

These could all be done on the laptop, but somehow never are. With pen and paper, I seem to be able to get more pure thinking and planning done in 45 minutes than I would in a day or two with the computer.

Do you work in a notebook ever?

If so, what do you like about it? If not, why not?

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: