If You Want To Do More, Go Paper-Less

he secret to increased productivity and a powerful agenda process is to finally ditch the paper and move to a more flexible system for both your daily to-do list and notes. This article makes the case for why moving to a digital platform for a to-do list and notes will increase your productivity.

If you want to significantly improve your productivity, you need to carefully select and adopt an efficient process, especially how you organize your “to-do” list and take notes. Numerous professionals still write out their daily to-do list on a piece of paper or even on individual sticky notes. Many also take their meeting and project notes in a physical notebook or on legal pads. The secret to increased productivity and a powerful agenda process is to finally ditch the paper and move to a more flexible system for both your daily to-do list and notes. This article makes the case for why moving to a digital platform for a to-do list and notes will increase your productivity.

So why should you change your methods? Think about it like this: if you were going to a meeting, it’s unlikely that you would ride a horse to get there, even if someone offered you one. Yet if you lived in the late 1800s, you might have been a little apprehensive about sitting in a vehicle powered by highly flammable gasoline. Getting somewhere faster isn’t worth the risk of blowing yourself up. While this may seem silly, think for second about why you’re still relying on paper while so many technological tools that could increase your productivity exist in the world. For most people, the reason they choose not to switch is out of a fear of change, worry of making a mistake or a feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of tools available. What if this tool makes it harder for me to manage my day? What if I accidentally delete something? Which tool is the best fit?

While these are all valid concerns (gasoline is flammable), the risks of a catastrophic failure are very minimal and are far outweighed by the benefits of switching to a digital solution. The easiest way to understand these benefits is to examine the drawbacks of a paper-based solution.

For a die-hard paper to-do list person, someone with her desk covered in papers, it’s easy to illustrate the shortcomings of this system. One of the most obvious issues, and in many ways the most important, is that a paper to-do list has no inherent backup. If you accidentally spill your morning coffee or leave your notebook on the train, you might lose irreplaceable work. What if you just misplace your to-do list in a pile of active items on your desk? You might waste minutes, even hours looking for it.

Even if you have a leash attached to your to-do list you’ll inevitably run into other issues. If you want to reprioritize the things that you’re working on that day, you will need to either amend or even totally rewrite your paper to-do list. If you jot down another to-do on a separate piece of paper, you’re suddenly working off two separate lists. Furthermore, if there are related items to the to-do (e.g., emails or documents), it takes time to find the item in order to complete the list.

Instead of working with a cumbersome, easy to lose to-do list, you should consider switching to a digital system such as Microsoft Outlook Tasks. What you gain with a digital to-do list is the ability to reorganize easily by clicking and dragging; no more having to rewrite your entire list to reprioritize. You have a cloud-based backup for to-do list items, ensuring that even if your main computer or mobile device suffers a catastrophic failure, you’ll be able to retrieve your list. You can also attach emails or other documents directly to the list, allowing you to have crucial, time-saving context with each item. Perhaps most importantly, you have a record of tasks that have been completed, allowing you to look back with accuracy on what you’ve completed each day.

An electronic to-do list is accessible no matter how large it gets, you can view it from multiple devices wherever you are, and it provides a unified space for all your to-dos. No need to worry about jotting something down on a scrap of paper and trying to remember to add it to your to-do list later. Whether you’re on your mobile device or your main computer, you can add new items to a single, unified digital master list.

Hopefully the reasons for going paperless with your to-do list now seem obvious, but what about notes? A paper-based note-taking system has many of the same issues as the to-do list — easy to lose, hard to access — but some problems are even more costly in terms of time. For example, paper notes aren’t searchable in any way. When looking for an item, you need to rely on your memory alone and flip back through pages of your notebook hoping to find the relevant location. Furthermore, if you want to collaborate on a project or share information with someone, paper notes require you to make photocopies of the entire document and perhaps spend time annotating each copy.

Instead of making additional work for yourself by clinging to outmoded ways of capturing information, consider switching to a digital solution, such as Microsoft OneNote. Just like Outlook Tasks, the advantages regarding time and organization are immense. The tools and methods that OneNote has for annotating, organizing, and highlighting information make your notes far more usable. If you commit to mastering the hotkeys and tags within OneNote, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time when searching for things. Even better than typing out your notes, OneNote allows you to dictate your notes straight into your mobile device, allowing you to have hands-free convenience when you’re on the go.

Using a digital platform for taking notes makes it incredibly easy to collaborate and work with your team on a large project and simple to share the project afterwards. Platforms such as OneNote allow users to export notes in multiple document types, creating something that a future team, or even another organization, could easily reference. OneNote also allows for a mixture of media types within its digital note pages; you can easily add pictures, Web links, video, voicemails, and any other file type to your notebook. This flexibility provides you with new ways to capture the entire scope of a large project that would be impossible in a paper notebook.

Going paperless with your to-do list and note taking system can seem scary, but hopefully this article has piqued your interest in exploring the digital alternative to your paper-based system. Think about how much time you could save per day if you didn’t need to organize or rewrite your to-dos or search for your notes. 10, 20, 30 minutes? All that time can be yours if you make some simple changes to the way you work. Commit yourself to going paperless for two weeks and see how much less time you spend handling these items. You have the power to change the way you work. You just need to do it.


Brett Spodak is the CEO of Productive Power, a digital productivity consulting company that specializes in training individuals on how to maximize their productivity with technology. For more, visit www.productivepower.com.


The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.

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