Posted by: Simon | May 15, 2008

Shunning technology…the pull of analogue for productivity

I am no stranger to technology. I have worked around it all my life. From satellites, digital signal processors and supercomputers to service oriented architectures, standard operating environments and unified communications. Have always been a gadget kind of guy. I’ve had numerous PDAs, mobile phones and am now on my second BlackBerry. Not a very early adopter but certainly no laggard when it comes to bright shiny toys. Professionally and personally today I use a lot of technology in my life. So the following statement may seem a little strange coming from me:

“There is an unhealthy obsession with technology for personal productivity in the world today”

I have a simple system that I use for getting things done which is heavily based on GTD. I use Outlook on my work network which I can access from anywhere, including on my BlackBerry, and I print hard copies of my forward calendar and my Next Action lists about once every 5 days for carrying in my compendium. That’s it. Nothing else. I do use pen and paper as well as MindManager for brainstorming but that’s across the board.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler” – Albert Einstein

However, as I navigate the web each day reading various blogs and participating in a number of fora I am genuinely astounded at how obsessed some people are with this tool or that tool for managing their projects or their to-do lists or their ideas or their who knows what! It’s out of control. I am sure that most of the software that people rave on about is actually okay, but is it actually necessary? The complex systems that some people have and describe boggle my mind – I am sure they must have to spend half their day simply keeping their “productivity” system going. Others I see are constantly chopping and changing from one system to another. Where’s the sense in all that?

I don’t make wholesale changes to my system. It works. I spend my time on things that are more important to me. However…. lately I have really been feeling the pull of analogue – good old pen and paper for getting things done. There’s some hard to describe kinaesthetic thrill for me that comes from writing now. I use a Moleskin as my journal and I love writing in it. The feel of the paper and the flow of my Montblanc pen (a long service gift from my employer) really help to get my creative juices flowing. I realise now that part of the reason I print out my calendar and Next Action lists is because I like having them with me, even if I’m nowhere near the Internet, and I like the feeling of striking through a completed action. Far more satisfying than clicking a check box!

I am seriously contemplating a trial where I move my Next Action lists completely to paper. I’d keep my calendar and contacts electronically still. Trouble is, I’m after a purpose built paper product that I suspect doesn’t exist. Yeah, sure, I could grab any old lined exercise book and create my lists. But I’d want it to be attractive to me – like the lure of a Moleskin.

Anyone else shunning technology and turning to analogue productivity solutions? What have you done?

Photos: Guillermo Esteves and notashamed


  1. My hub is a techno junkie. He will use his computer to do things that would be easier to do with paper and pencil. I jusk roll my eyes.

    I have tried to keep the handheld to keep my calendar but I just like a paper calendar better. I can see the entire week at a glance and move from week to week with a turn of the page. It is easier for me to keep track of. Funny thing is I have to keep an electronic calendar for work which I do but I use my paper calendar everyday.

    I write short stories and poetry. Sometimes I use the computer and somtimes it just feels right to use my journal (paper journal).

    I also think we get too carried away with the technology. There are many things that are just easier to do with a piece of paper and a pencil.

  2. I think part of the problem Laurie is that in general society conditions us to seek new, more convenient and more sophisticated ways to do things and so we seek out technology that appears to assist in this. Trouble is I’m not sure it always fulfils its promise and we too easily lose sight of the outcome we’re after.

  3. ANd the problem isn’t confined to tools like computers and handheld devices. Think about the big TV change over that is about to occur. I don’t have an updated TV with whatever they are all going to need in order to work. I wonder how many TV’s are going to be thrown out and what hazardous materials are going to be released into the environment? Is the change that much an improvement to warrent the hassel and the trash?

  4. Oh no Simon! I totally let you down this past weekend!! I ordered cable TV, cable internet, and I bought a blackberry! It was like I was on a drunken stupor! OMG!!! I think I now need a 12 step probram.

  5. Wow, that’s quite a technology binge! We got rid of our cable TV (well actually it was satellite – but paid as opposed to free-to-air) last year (was full of junk and we don’t miss it – even the kids) however if we could get cable internet here in the country instead of ADSL (which is better than dial up!) then I would. Broadband communications here in Australia lag behind the US – it’s always slower than we’d like. Our large land mass doesn’t help matters in terms of the cost of getting all the infrastructure in place.

  6. This will be the first time I have ever had cable and I would never have gotten it but the hub wants to eventually get a big TV and hang it on the wall. OUr reception is really bad (we live behind a company that makes stuff for the USA defense such as guidance systems for bombs and it messes up our reception). The hub thought it made no sense to get the fancy TV and not be able to see the picture. I rarely watch TV. I never know who is winning on American Idol. Don’t care either.

    The phone- I’m going to have to read the book. I can’t figure it out at all.

    Back to the 12 step program for me! I heard the first step is admitting you have a problem!! he he.

    Technology I don’t want to be without- my laptop, my i-pod, and my phone. The rest could go and I would be just fine. What about you?

  7. [...] GTD system for some time now. It works well and has done so for almost a year. However, as I wrote here, I feel the need to explore the incorporation of paper into the system. And today begins my 30 day [...]

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