Response About Productivity

Tim recently wrote a post about productivity and organization and this is my response.

Thoughts on GTD (a poem):


The List

“The List” is relatively effective so long as it is checked with some degree of regularity and, perhaps more importantly, is “edited”. My problem is I’m guilty of not editing my lists and they often become mazes unto themselves giving birth to baby minotaurs.

Speaking of which we need to update our “list” Tim.


Thom always said it would be a matter of time before I got a PDA; much like it was a matter of time before I got a tattoo. As of yet, I have neither. This isn’t to say I won’t get a PDA (or a tattoo of mermaid for that matter), but ultimately, for myself at least, the PDA poses three real problems:

1.) It costs money. And I want to buy other things with my money at this point in time.

2.) It has a technology curve that I’m not sure I’m willing to learn no matter how easy of that curve is. Even if I did learn the technology curve, what happens when I forget to recharge the batteries, or I have to update the shell? All the sudden the care for the PDA becomes like having a sick animal that I don’t like. Like those fucking stupid hamsters that pissed in the cage.

3.) Even though the PDA does offer lots of lots of thrills, spills and frills, in the guise of games, cameras and internet, I still find it is still limited in what “it” can do as far as an all purpose log/journal goes. Perhaps this sounds like an odd complaint, especially for such a piece of dazzling technology, but ultimately whatever the “organizational” device is – one should select it on a basis that it is best suited to them. I find for what I need to do, PDAs are limiting.

Notepads (AKA The Spiral Notebook)

Notepads are best suited for my purposes. I’ve been using cheap wide ruled spiral notebooks for a good while now. These notepads serve a number of purposes for me: they act as creative journals, places where I can take notes, draw things, write lists, tape stuff – and really do whatever the hell I want.

In addition, as spiral notebooks are the cheapest of the cheap, I do not mind committing acts of unadulterated violence to them. This is extremely important for me. I need to be able to throw these notepads into my car or at Tim with good deal of recklessness, to be able to tape rubbish up, down and all over them and to be able to spill any range of beverage on them. If I spent 10 dollars on a nice hardbound journal, I’d treat it with too much care, pampering it like a trophy wife because I was too afraid to scribble, rip and smear on its pages.

This would be even more the case if I had a PDA. What’s more, I couldn’t very well have taped an envelope with the second half of the “Burger Girl” article I cut out of the Trenton Times on a PDA. Certainly, I could have scanned it into my PDA, or even subscribed to the Trenton Times electronically and stored the article in the memory as a PDF. However, I’m attracted to the reality of the real Burger Girl article in an envelope in a spiral notebook. I like the tactile nature of that. With successive tapings, scribblings, rippings and musings, suddenly the completely cheap spiral notebook is imbued with a sense of personality. It becomes a true live journal – where anything is possible.

So in part, I like the constructive aesthetic the spiral notebook offers, and it is with the completion of each of these notebooks I capture the most accurate representation of my life at a specific period of time.

It could be argued that there is a danger with the irresponsible treatment of the notebooks that things like the Burger Girl might become susceptible to the elements (God forbid). And surely these dangers are very real. But this isn’t a disadvantage – it is an advantage. Mysteriously, I’ve found that frequently lost information is better off lost. Bureaucracy has thrived on this principle for years. So do I. For me, entropy acts as an editor to the overflow of information and even the lists that I mentioned earlier. Even more mysteriously, it always seems that without fail the information that is worthy, always moves out of the spiral notebook and into the next stage.

I can’t account for why this happens, but it does. As such, the spiral notebooks become rough drawing boards/ sketch pads (except they don’t cost near as much as sketch pad). When a really good idea goes into the notebook, it usually sifts itself out and is sometimes even merged with other ideas elsewhere in the notebook. The new form that the idea takes might be action, word doc, video or song.

I think the final advantage I find with notebooks lies within the actual physical process of writing they require. This process is more linear than writing in electronic mediums. I diverge for a moment. Living in a non-linear age means that we not only receive the bulk of our information non-linearly, but that we’ve increasingly started to store more and more information non-linearly. In part we have to do this out of necessity, due to the sheer rate at which information bombards us. Because there generally isn’t enough time in the day to process all the new information that comes in, the objective becomes placing that information somewhere where there is a chance that it can be found at a later time. As a librarian once pointed out to me, being a librarian today is not what it was to be a librarian fifty years ago. It is now a vocation that requires, get this, at least two Masters. And in effect, today we are all in some regard forced to be librarians in the navigation of our own personal information (for example, with our lists, spiral notebooks and PDAs). Consider even the very methods of research citation, which have reached a near fetishistic level over the fear that something might be left out of the final document. There are guide books for how to do notation, various standard styles and ways to make that information easier to process. And that is “just for notation”.

With more emphasis now placed on the processing and archiving of information, the actual ways in which this information is entered has likewise become more complex. This brings me back to my original point and I refer here to Tim’s initial post. He talks the number of paths open to a person when they are considering how best to organize their lives. As he points out there are even very dubious sounding courses out there like GTD which aim to equip individuals with the “supposed necessary” skills to navigate their lives more successfully. Other actual paths come in the form of tools, like PDAs, or more to the point – electronic mediums in general.

Electronic tools for storing information mimic the non-linear information that they aim to store in the very way in which the information is entered into them. Take any word processing software. When a person types in a word processing program, they do it non-linearly. You write one line. Then you backspace. Then you jump up three lines, and add a thought to a paragraph preceding the one you were working on. Even as I write now, I am constantly revising what I write. I’ve done this very thing on this post here.

Sometimes I find this rather “revisionist” approach to writing advantageous; like in a blog. Other times however it is nuisance. And when it comes to the creative journal, or to do list, I find it a nuisance. When I write something down in the spiral notebook, there is very little rewriting of what I’ve written – at least as I write. I can go back and cross out a paragraph, or start over – but the revising as I’m writing is minimized. What is caught on the page is closer to the crude thought. And there are misspellings, lost words – half thoughts – and it usually reads like Caveman. But nobody else has to understand it but me. This is the beauty of it. And if the time comes when I want to rewrite it, remake it, or present it in a way that others can understand – then I can move it into a new medium.

As I write this there is a gaggle of girls downstairs talking about a poster that someone put up for their lost PDA. They are all saying things like, “God its so horrible, she lost her PDA.” And it is – but not just because the girl in question lost all her numbers, addresses, lists, writings, etc, but because that PDA probably cost 400 dollars. I too would be upset if I lost a spiral notebook, and would cringe at the idea of that same gaggle of girls discovering my notebook and laughing at my Caveman drawings of Batman defending a group of naked women from rampaging beasts. However, I wouldn’t have lost 400 dollars. I would have lost fifty cents.

Space Pens:

All I know is I definitely need one of these. It is a must.

2 thoughts on “Response About Productivity

  1. I like what you say. I agree with the PDA/notebook thing. Let’s face it, paper makes a lot more sense for this kind of thing. I just want portability at this point in time, which means I don’t want to haul around a full sized notebook, but something more the size and construction of a passport. Flexible, durable, with about 50-60 pages in it for spur of the moment notes.

    Of course, when you need more space and have the time, sit down in front of your spiral bound, but when you are on the train or sitting on the shitter and get an idea, pull the little pad out of your pocket and go to town.

  2. Yeah – portability makes perfect sense. My duffle bag of spirals, old faxes and books is by no means portable. A small pad would be nice. Like Dad’s pad of gas mileage.

Comments are closed.