Pen + paper + punk rock productivity
I stepped foot through the door as an official yeti almost exactly two months ago. I’ve changed jobs before, but somehow this time it felt a bit different. Sort of a cross between moving to a country where you don’t know the language, and walking into the cafeteria on your first day of 7th grade. While at the store purchasing a handful of requisite office items, I felt compelled to toss a little green notebook in the basket. I’m not sure why, but it just seemed necessary.
My first few weeks on the job, I had a ton of conversations with a ton of other people. Yetis, by nature, tend to constantly burble ideas, and I didn’t want to miss any of it. Having made the transition from designer to front-end developer, and now to back-end developer, I was tasked with sponging new languages, terminologies, ways of thinking, processes, programs, and people. As a way of coping, I just cracked open that green notebook and started scribbling. I talked to people and scribbled, I worked on projects and scribbled, I read articles and scribbled…I scribbled myself off cliffs of anxiety, and I scribbled my way out of mental blocks. There were even times when I just clung to it and fiddled with the ribbon bookmark and elastic closure strap just to give my fidgety hands something to do while I made sense of what I was feeling. You could say that it was akin to a socially acceptable security blanket.
Within a few weeks of constantly wielding the green notebook, my colleague and fellow yeti, Mike Speegle, commented on my use of good old fashioned pen and paper, and we had some serious bonding over this medium. For Mike, it seemed the appeal was in the tactility of the process of putting pen to paper, and finding just the right pen for the job. I’ll write with/on just about anything. For me it’s all about catching those ideas before they fly away.
You may be thinking, "there's an app for that", and I do utilize several of these popular note-taking apps. But they all fall short for a few fundamental reasons:
In the time it takes to unlock your device, navigate to an app, and find/name a note, you’ve lost or talked yourself out of writing the really good ideas.
When you write on paper, there's no time wasted on formatting and hierarchy of ideas. As a designer, I cannot leave a "wall of text" as is. It's got to be organized formatted, and polished. Doing so can singularly kill an amazing train of thought.
There's something non-judgemental about paper. A piece of paper feels like a safer, more welcome, home to those random, fleeting thoughts that are mere glimmers of ideas. On paper, your thoughts can be vulnerable, controversial and undiluted. These are the thoughts we don't want to lose. That's where the truly good ideas hide.
When retrieving ideas out of the mess, you have to pass by other ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily encounter if you were doing a search query in an app program.
There’s this idea that productivity means accomplishing tasks as quickly and efficiently as humanly possible. But what if productivity means accomplishing a task with as much creativity, elegance, and ingenuity as possible? I call this approach punk rock productivity.
So grab a pen and write everything - absolutely everything - that spills out of your brain. There will be notes about things you need to pick up at the grocery store sandwiched between notes about mental breakthroughs you encounter while working on a project. Or quick bulleted lists of dev procedures scrawled alongside long, messy passages addressing the morning’s anxiety.
Find some paper and write. Capture that constant flood of ideas about projects, ways of doing things, ways of thinking about things, and ways of seeing things. It may be chicken scratch, totally disorganized and out of order, but at least it's there. And that's the first step to making things happen, and not only accomplishing tasks, but understanding why you're doing them, and how to do them well. That, my friend, is true productivity.