Back to Paper Follow-Up

A few great posts have been written in response to my Back to Paper, Back to Work post. I admire both the writers, so it was treat to see them hack apart my thinking.

Aaron Mahnke wrote:

A great GTD computer application serves one single purpose in my day-to-day: removing friction. Tools like OmniFocus allow me to quickly push tasks and ideas out of the active portion of my brain and into a system that allows me to organize them by date, project and context. The friction disappears because I can enter the items fast and move on, knowing that later that day or week I’ll be able to sit down and organize it all. For me, paper can’t serve in that same frictionless manner. It’s in the pixels that I find speed and freedom.

This brings up a good point. Just because the brain works better with paper, doesn’t mean everything you do requires firing on all cylinders. This is part of what I’m trying out in my experiment. So far, for my workload, I don’t see enough of a reason to spend the time and money to bring the complexity of this software back in my life. Talk to me in a month.

Chris Bowler responded to Aaron with his own take:

My process is similar. I absolute need paper, but more for certain aspects of my day, rather than my entire system. OmniFocus is my Inbox, where various links and URLs are dumped, to be processed later. It’s also where I document all my big projects, each with it’s specific action items or Someday ideas.

I believe the inbox will always be a mix of analogue and digital, because we live in both worlds. But I also believe projects require deeper thought. Deeper thought requires two things (according to the monstrous amount of reading I’ve been doing):

  1. Stepping away from any screen.
  2. Stepping away from other people and distractions.

Which brings me back to The Shallows, the book that started this. The author gave a sneak preview of the book in an article for Wired (June 2010):

In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

This is one of the reasons I’m not likely to say, “to each his own” when this is over. There’s actual science here, not just productivity pr0n.

I’m also not going to give in to the theory of “Appropriatism,” because I don’t believe it holds true for artists (by which I mean all creatives who care to be unique). I believe in a certain amount of constraint to force creativity. I’ve seen too many musicians/painters/writers get boring when they finally have the money to buy what they feel are appropriate tools.

None of the things we’ve touched on yet even hints at the hardest part of the experiment to come. A “system” means more than actions and projects. The really hard part is reference materials - something even David Allen seems leery to approach.

If the research is true, we should be printing everything out. Nothing about that will appeal to us. Apple doesn’t even make a printer.