Scraps of Paper

Posts tagged productivity

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Another way to think about it is session lengths. Microsoft Office was the definition of productivity for like 25 years. The average session length was probably an hour or two. You would sit down at your PC and you would like type stuff on Word or Excel. Then smartphones shrank the average session time to like two minutes, maybe five minutes. That’s part of why I think Microsoft is continuing to have a such a hard time getting into mobile, because it’s a fundamentally different way of thinking. “What can I do to be productive two minutes at a time?” It isn’t Office.

Over the next couple of years the different devices are going to shrink the average session times to seconds. So the session time for Glass is going to be a few seconds. The session time for your (smart) watch is going to be a glance, just like a second. You will have to come up with new use cases, new definitions of what it means to be productive. That is going to be just as different from mobile phones as mobile phones were over desktops.

Evernote Wants to Become the Nike for Your Brain: 10 Questions With CEO Phil Libin | Wired Business |

I thought this was a terrific way of thinking about modern productivity. 

Filed under productivity evernote

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I feel like I’m drowning in self-promotion on social media. Links to buy digital products, e-courses, tickets to conferences (on the topic of social media promotion) all fill my social streams.

Self-promotion has become as ubiquitous as banner ads or “Keep Calm and Carry On” memes, and with that, just as ignored.

Paul Jarvis in Fast Company

This article pretty concisely articulates EXACTLY how I feel about how to use social media if you’re a creative professional. 

Filed under creativity productivity being an artist

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Fellow creative types - how do you stay on track and get it all done?

Task lists?
iPhone apps?
Wing and Prayer?

Filed under productivity

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In Praise of the Paper Planning Tools

I wrote a post ​a few weeks ago explaining why designers should put their life into Evernote. Today I wanted to share some thoughts about paper planning tools and why you should consider making them central to creative thinking and work. 

The Tale of the Three Moleskines

The Little One

I carry three Moleskine notebooks around. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. The smaller of the three (Star Wars on the cover) is the pocket size notebook. I use it as both a basic wallet (all I ever really need is my ID, my debit card and my Metrocard) and my ubiquitous capture tool. It’s pages are full of scribbled ideas or jotted down half-thoughts. Stuff goes in here like the name of a restaurant I might want to try, or “write a blog post on paper tools” etc. The bookmark tells me the last point I’ve reviewed. So once every day or two I go through the notebook from the bookmark to the last written page and I take whatever I’ve written down and figure out if it’s a task to go into @NEXT ACTIONS in Evernote, a @SOMEDAY/MAYBE for Evernote or maybe it’s something I have to get done next Tuesday so it goes onto my calendar. Then I move the bookmark and that’s it. ​

Days and Dates

​So why in the world would anyone who carries a smartphone use a paper-based calendar anymore? I’ve tried lots of calendar apps. I have a Google Calendar account, I use iCloud. I get the power of a digital calendar. I actually do use digital calendars. So then why the paper? To me it’s the difference between connected and disconnected space. I know it’s possible to have private calendars digitally, yet every time I look at my digital calendars I’m reminded of other people’s commitments or events that pop up automatically that I might actually want to be ignoring. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s helpful to be able to look over various shared calendars and get a sense for what the important people in my life are up to, but I think of that task as separate and apart from my personal planning.

Our British friends call a paper planner a diary and I think that’s about right. I want a private place where I can write (in pencil) what the priorities for the week will be, what tasks MUST be done on a given date and what gets erased and pushed back. I can feel you shaking your head, “but there’s only so many things you can fit on a page in a paper calendar!” Yes that’s right. Because I hate to say it but there’s only a certain number of places any one person can be and only a certain amount of deadlines one person should be responsible for in a given week. The physical limits of a paper calendar remind us that we too have limits. “But it’s not synced to the cloud!” Well, for the last multiple hundred years people have been living perfectly well with books that were not cloud based. Yes, sometimes they were lost or rained on or smote by dragons, but for the most part they survived just fine. I liken the odds of losing my planner with the odds of getting my Google account hacked. Both would be catastrophic, but the chances of each are low.

The Paper Notebook - Idea Machine

Last but not least there’s my paper notebook. I went big time this month and purchased the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine. If you’re a designer, I shouldn’t have to convince you of the value of a paper notebook. I still have yet to come across a digital tool that could ever replace what paper and pencil does for me. No piece of software will ever be as intuitive as taking notes and drawing on clean notebook paper. No apps to switch, no buttons to push, just your hand and limited space.

Evernote/Moleskine Side Note: I will admit, thus far I’m fairly unimpressed with the page scan feature. It’s a cool idea and I’ll keep trying it, but so far it hasn’t been worth much.

​Ultimately everything of value will land in my Evernote account for reference or action anyway. But the act of using a paper notebook is so invaluable to my thinking process as a quiet disconnected space that doubt I’ll ever give one up. 

The Point of All This?

Well at the end of the day designers are paid for having great ideas and then finding ways to execute them. We are paid to think. When I look at my phone I look at a connected device. It’s essential for getting my work done. Much of the time I do indeed NEED to be connected. However, the connected state of the smart phone isn’t of much value if there’s never a disconnected state. If you haven’t given yourself time to plan your projects, plan you week or sketch your ideas then you won’t have much of value to share once you are connected. 

Filed under moleskine Evernote productivity Project Management Designer's Life

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You don’t have a productivity problem - you’re just scared.

If procrastination were an Olympic sport I’d be Michael Phelps. I think we misdiagnose productivity problems with a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with productivity. We treat symptoms and not the core disease. We blame the internet or email or social media. We claim we must take ownership of our time and decide ” what’s urgent versus important.” 

We’ve also decided this is a problem tools can solve for us. There are hundreds of software products and countless versions of calendars and task lists out there to make us more productive. To help us manage our everyday lives. I’ve come to learn something very simple. 

It’s All Bullshit. 

I’m not saying having an app remind you to pay the electric bill isn’t useful. I’m saying if you’re a creative person who isn’t creating it has nothing to do with your productivity system. You don’t need an app. 

You Need to Kill Fight Your Fear. 

This brings me back to being the world’s worst procrastinator. The thing about procrastination is that it’s nothing more than rationalized fear. Fear of what?


Fear that we will put something out into the world and the world will hate it or worse not even care. 

I can tell you what I do to fight the fear, but the truth is my tactics don’t matter as much as why I try to remember every time I’m slowing myself down. These things aren’t foolproof. Getting scared is normal, fear or rejection is normal. The trick is to see through the bullshit. You’re not mindlessly flicking tumblr for gifs because of the dopamine squirt it gives your brain. You’re doing it because it delays you facing your fear and creating something from your heart -from your gut. 

No Excuses

I live in the real world like you do. People expect things from me, bills have to be paid, mindless work like invoicing has to be done. Right now, I can’t afford having anyone else do it, so I do it myself. I also have to buy the groceries, walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house and all of the other mindless time-consuming tasks that occupy much of our lives. None of those things are excuses for not making the time to create something every day, to put in the work. 

Clock In

When I worked on a crew for a theater I had to track my hours, that’s how I got paid. When I was “on the clock” my job was on that stage or in the rafters. When I was off the clock it’s tools down time to relax. Whatever your creative endeavor - clock in and commit. 

Accept that Failure is Indeed an Option

My work is important to me, but it’s not important to many people. I learn to accept that everyday. I’ve produced two self-published books (neither of which flew off the digital shelf) I write for a website everyday (which doesn’t get the traffic I’d like) this year I even produced a dance piece as an experiment in lighting (to little fanfare). I worked hard lighting a dozen weddings only to lose money on the deal. Failure is an option, that doesn’t mean you stop trying. 

What do you think? How do you face the creator’s fear?

Filed under productivity proscrastination creativity fear

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Why I Ditched OmniFocus and iCal For A Moleskine

My Datebook

About 6 weeks ago I started an experiment. Ever since I started working for myself, I have experimented with different tools from drafting to personal productivity. I’m constantly trying to simplify how many things I need and always trying to get the most out of myself, despite my capacity for procrastination and my constant battle with the many distractions of the internet. 

Some other time I’ll talk about how I produce architectural drawings, specifications, sketches and the like. This morning I wanted to share with you the biggest shift in my personal productivity. The shift backwards to paper. 

I’ve long professed my love for my notebook as a disconnect place to capture ideas, do quick sketches, write little journal entries and just clear my head. I’ve tried all different sizes and shapes, but in the end the classic blank Moleskine (Star Wars Edition for me thank you) seems to win out. I know many people capture their notes with an app on their phone or tablet. I used to as well. But what I found (for me) is that my phone is a completely connected space. All day it buzzes, beeps and flashes with updates from the outside world, IMs, incoming tweets mentioning me, emails, txts, Facebook notifications, Instagram likes…you get the picture. Having my phone in my hand during a meeting or a brainstorming session is an invitation for the rest of the world to join me, but when I take a meeting I owe it to the person I’m meeting with or myself to be focused. My notebook is disconnected, and it’s non-linear. I don’t have to open one app for text and then another for sketching. I just start drawing something if I need to. It’s a simpler, cleaner tool so it’s become my go-to. 

Which brings me to probably the two most important personal productivity tools for anyone trying to work for themselves - the task list and the calendar. I’ve tried tons of different task management and calendar apps. Some that come to mind:

  • ReQall
  • Remember the Milk
  • EasyTask Manager
  • To Do
  • Week Calendar
  • Free Time
  • Time Logger
  • OmniFocus
  • Agenda
  • And of course the Reminders and iCal Apps built into the iPhone

I’ll spare you a rundown of all of these different apps different features and failures. Some boasted voice input while others were designed for speed, still others were about layout or location based reminders, etc. They were all sexy for a minute, but here’s what my experimenting yielded.

For about 4 months I was using the digital combination of Evernote, OmniFocus, and iCal to manage my calendar, tasks and notes and for awhile everything was blissful. Perhaps I’ll write more about my evolving relationship with Evernote soon. Let’s focus on Omnifocus and iCal. 

So many pieces of informationWhen I first bought OmniFocus (at a pretty hefty price) and installed it on my Mac, I was enraptured. Little by little my tasks are organized by project, context, due date, even location. You can make them recurring and give them start and end dates. There really is no end to how much information about your tasks OmniFocus can handle. I actually felt super productive just putting all of these things into a system. The system (based on David Allen’s GTD) felt solid. 

At the same time, I’d been using my iPhone’s built in calendar functions for a long time. Managing and sharing dates and times with really no problems so to speak except when you’re phone is everything to you, it can only be one thing at a time. So if you’re sitting in a Starbucks and reviewing your day or on the phone with a client and you’re trying to figure out when you’re going to get a hunk of work done or perhaps a client wants to have a meeting. You can’t actually look at your calendar while either A) Reviewing your task list or B) actually talking on the phone. 

After time the cracks in the system began to show…Oh I didn’t sort through my OmniFocus Inbox before I left the house, so the shopping items I added there didn’t make it to the shopping list. Then of course I’d have projects that I wanted to start on a particular day and date, but other things took precedent so they flew to the back burner, but OmniFocus is still telling me that they are prominent now. And just how finely should one parse out their contexts? How much time should I really spend figuring out if a task is going to be done in my office, on my mac or on my iPad? In short, managing OmniFocus was a project in and of itself. A project that competed for attention with everything else on my computer/iPad/iPhone screens. Then of course the calendar app became the same way - sometimes for events I didn’t even add. Soon they were just two more apps beeping and buzzing and flashing. Together they had become yet another distraction to avoid.

The pinnacle of this might have been while I was grocery shopping. There I stood looking at my extensively organized shopping list in OmniFocus when my notifications flashed, someone tweeted me a lighting question. Compulsively I switched over and started to answer, then I got a txt, I finished my tweet, then txt’d a reply, then I had forgotten the next item on my list so I went back to Omni and scrolled back through. I looked up and realized I’d been standing in the chips and salsa aisle for five minutes. Meanwhile up ahead, a woman in her 70’s had her shopping list written on the back of an old receipt. I glanced at it as I walked by…she was 80% through it, tiny check marks ticking off what she had already picked up. That was the moment when I decided things I needed to do needed to be stored in a place separate from all of the distractions my phone held for me. 

So I took the leap backwards to see if using a paper planner would help this problem. So far, so good. Here’s the secret. A book and pencil require only a certain amount of attention and are highly personalized. In order to know what’s on your calendar or on your task list for the day, you have to open the book and look. It doesn’t seek you out, you seek it out. It’s also highly malleable. For instance in the open space at the top of every week page, I like to write in big bold letters the projects that are active that week. That way when I’m flipping pages, I can see what’s coming and why I might not be able to take on anything else. It’s my own quirk but I like it. I maintain a running list of tasks from week to week on one page and my appointments for that week on the facing page, it’s utterly simple, and brutally effective. 

For those of you who are skeptical let me answer a few probable challenges…

BUT, BUT! There’s only so much room on one piece of paper!!!

Yet another reason I enjoy my notebook. Limited space means I have to prioritize, to erase and reshuffle. I means I have to think about my tasks.

Right, but I like to set up reminders for myself and have my phone run things.

If that’s true more power to you. Personally, I grew tired of the small rectangle in my pocket demanding all my attention all the time. I suspect I’m not alone. It seems every professional I know has a love/hate relationship with their phone. Perhaps we expect too much from these little guys?

Isn’t it just easier to do this stuff digitally?

What I found is that it really isn’t. By the time I open the calendar app, jump to the day I want, tap the plus symbol and thumb type/scroll through everything I need to input I could have written it down.

Don’t You Spend a lot of time re-writing stuff?

Yes! But this, to me, is where the power of paper really comes through. Something about the act of looking at my notes and pulling out the tasks, then transferring them by hand, to my datebook, checking them against the other items already there and writing it all down makes me think about them in a real way. I’m not relying on the computer to do it. I do it myself, you’d be amazed how many times I think about my week’s calendar and a mental image of the page comes up. Or how often I can say without looking “no, I have a thing at that time.”

So there are no problems with paper?

OK, paper isn’t perfect. There are things about working this way of working that are inconvenient. 

  • It’s another thing - when packing, or getting dressed to go outside, the datebook and pencil are yet two more things I need to make sure I have with me. 
  • It’s a single point of failure - the digital world is all about the cloud. There is no cloud for your paper notes. Losing your datebook is a single point of failure.  
  • It’s not shareable easily. 
  • I worry about the environmental impact. Does anyone have any links to studies on the environmental footprint of paper versus the cloud?

All in all though, I’ve found things to be much simpler and much more fun using paper than all the apps in the world. My phone is a connected space, my notebook and datebook are disconnected spaces. I’m loving the balance of the two. 

How do you manage your creative workload? Have you gone all digital or do analog tools play a role?

Filed under productivity task management creativity omnifocus Moleskine evernote iphone