Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that I do not have the world’s greatest relationship with paper. My handwriting is dreadful and my fear of a blank page is great. However, after deciding to forego technology in meetings in favor of Stephen Hackett’s Capture Form, I started to see benefits and began looking for other paper tools that might also work for me.
I’ve kept these experiments limited to planning my day and capturing my ideas as I still believe that technology is better for long-term planning. Once I pushed through my initial terror, I quickly saw the impact paper can have in the short-term. I’ve specifically seen the benefits of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner (or ETP) and Aaron Mahnke’s Frictionless Capture Cards.
The Emergent Task Planner
Aside from small reminders, everything I need to do for my job resides in one of two places: my task manager of choice, OmniFocus or on my calendar. This does a great job of helping me know what needs to happen within a given day, but it doesn’t really help me plan out my time that well. After hearing Dave Caolo rave about the David Seah’s ETP, I decided to give it a shot.
The ETP is a form that was designed to help you realistically plan your day. It gives you space to layout your schedule (I do this in hour blocks) and to keep track of the things you need to get done. I now start every day by processing my email inbox to ensure there are no surprises. Then I grab my ETP form. I fill in everything on my calendar including lunch and any travel time needed for appointments. Then I jump into OmniFocus and start by copying the three most important tasks of the day into the ETP. If I feel like I’ll have more time, I’ll use the extra spaces provided for additional work, but since a “major task” often includes several steps for a specific projects, I often find I rarely get beyond three or four. I take these tasks and figure out where they best fit into my day in the gaps in my schedule. I usually do this by placing the number of the task in the correct time slot and blocking out the time I believe I will need to accomplish each task. I add a little padding to my tasks (as things often take longer than expected) and leave a short gaps right before lunch and near the end of the workday in order to deal with surprises. This takes minutes to complete and ensures that I know how I will be spending my day rather than consistently wondering what I should do next.
As the day progresses and little tasks get added to my plate (like returning phone calls or a small task for a co-worker) I fill them into the notes field. As I finish both major and minor tasks, I cross them off the list. There will always be little things left over, especially in the notes field, so either at the end of the day, or the beginning of the next I will add them to OmniFocus or to the next days ETP.
The Frictionless Capture Card
I won’t lie, at first I only purchased my Capture Cards to support Aaron. In theory they lacked the structure I prefer in paper products. Once they arrived, they became my go-to tool for capturing ideas. The card is essentially a beautifully designed open grid that can be used for anything. While I still use OmniFocus Quick Entry for long term tasks and the ETP for short term ones, all of the little thoughts that pop into my head go on to a capture card. At the end of the day, I review the card and give those thoughts a proper home (be it as a task in OmniFocus, as reference material in Evernote or where many of my very best ideas go… to the trash can). I also find plenty of small uses, such as short notes or on the fly meeting notes when I don’t have time to print out Stephen’s form. They fit nicely in my pocket, they scan easily in my Fujitsu SnapScan and they hold up nicely (especially when you consider how rough I am on things).
Aaron’s also getting ready to introduce the Frictionless Planning Pad which may just include the best of both worlds when it comes to the ETP and the Capture card. While still remaining open, the Planning Pad offers a bit more structure for planning your day. It also offers the space needed to capture things as they come up. I’m not sure it will replace the clarity of the ETP for me, but I look forward to giving it a try. And looking forward to anything that involves paper is a very new experience for me.
The Paper and Tech Balance
As I’ve identified and experimented with the right paper tools for my needs, I’m beginning to see where they fit in context with my beloved tech tools. Applications like OmniFocus shine in the long-run and keep future work out of my present, but in the moment paper has the edge. It’s ultra portable, it never runs out of batteries and there is no load time. There’s also no integration issues or need for APIs, so I can pull information from various sources and have everything I need in one place. There are shortcomings, the biggest being the need to reenter the things you want to act on at a later date, but when working in the moment, the pros have outweighed the cons.
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