Why I Still Make Lists & Keep Notebooks

It seems like everyday there is a new productivity app, and that I have tried a lot of them, a lot. I really like some of them like Weave, Donna, and ToDoist, and I try to use them, I really do. Something is missing though, something tangible maybe? Something… I am starting to think its because they are not on paper, they aren’t flexible and tangible.

I know that is a weird thing to say but hear me out. When I make lists, jot down notes, brainstorm on paper I feel like there is a lot more going on there. Paper is a blank slate, I doesn’t prompt me to update my profile, it doesn’t make me go through multiple steps to add all the information I deem necessary, it doesn’t require me to delete things I didn’t get done on time. Paper is easy, paper is simple and it can do whatever you want it to do.

I think this goes back to the studying and time management practices I learned in high school and middle school. I can’t remember who taught me all of these things specifically but plenty were learned through creative practices. One of the first things that I remember about the importance of physically writing things down is that it helps you remember things. I do find that lists that I have physically wrote down, ideas or notes; I remember them for significantly longer. I had a teacher in college for my History of Material Culture course that was very old fashioned. He used slides, I am not talking powerpoint, I am talking kodak carousel physical slides. You know what else? He didn’t let us use laptops in class, he required us to keep physical notes in a notebook that was to be turned in at the end of the course. I remember the most about this course out of all of my classes and I attribute a lot of this to putting real pen to real paper.

I did this in school when I was having trouble in a course, I would write down the same passage in a book at least five times. My recall improved exponentially, not only did I absorb the information better, but I feel like I also understood it more. This didn’t just work for developing better recall it also worked for ideas I was developing too. Sketching, writing and brainstorming for projects created a greater understanding of the idea and its development. This is taught in art school as a necessity; if you don’t sketch there is something wrong with you. Its how you work through problems, its how you remind yourself of moments, it is the best way to get to a solution.

Not only would I use my notebooks to brainstorm and sketch, but I would use them to formulate to do lists and manage my time. There was a better understanding of splitting up a day when I was just thinking about that day. A notebook aloud me to do that, it gave me flexibility. It didn’t have the rigidity of dates, it didn’t tell me I had to set an exact deadline unless I wanted to.

There is something pure and beautiful about a notebook too, something you can’t get from your iPhone. If I make a physical to do list for something I am far more likely to complete things on it. While my moleskin doesn’t make me conform to details I don’t find important it also is there, on my desk, open to my current to dos. I have to physically check things off, I feel even worse when at the end of the day I haven’t completed enough. I feel like I can ignore my phone’s apps as much as I can ignore a phone call from someone. There is something about writing something down with pen that makes it concrete, you can change your mind for sure, but you know you wrote it. You know you set that goal. Better yet I do my to-do lists in pen, it doesn’t allow for many changes. Any changes, if at all, require a big black mark on my otherwise perfect list. Who wants that?

You know what is also great about notebooks. You can go back, it doesn’t require three extra steps or remembering where you wrote it down. I just keep three notebooks at any given time: marketing work/blog, work-work, creative. I know what is kept where and I can keep all my lists and ideas separate, I can better organize things. This is another problem I have had with apps, I can’t find one that does everything I need it to do, I have to keep several different ones just to get some sibilance of how I organize with my notebooks.

That is why I keep notebooks, that it is why I make physical to do lists and until technology catches up with paper… I will still do it. Call me old fashioned but I don’t have the lag time of having to open and use my app, I just put pen to paper.