Systems

How To Be Productive On Paper

 April 28, 2021

By  Uriah Guilford, MFT

minute read

Uriah: Hello, everyone! I just want to say thanks so much for listening to the Productive Therapist Podcast, it really means a lot to us. So today I’m joined again by my co-host, Tracel Callahan. Good morning, hello!

Tracel: Hey, how are you? 

Uriah: I’m doing good. How are you today? 

Tracel: I’m doing very well. 

Uriah: Awesome. So for the folks that have never met you before, heard your voice on this podcast just yet, have not had the pleasure of that, tell them a little bit about what you do here.

Tracel: So funny. I was having a conversation with somebody the other day and they said, ‘The similarity in everything you do is like quality assurance.’

Uriah: Is that right? 

Tracel: And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s true! Maybe I should change my title!’ So I talk to the new members that are thinking about joining us – I have a chat with them; I help when we bring new virtual assistants on board, training them; making sure our members are happy when they are working with us; a lot of different things. 

Uriah: Yeah, I think you have at least four and a half titles! I mean, we’re a small but mighty team here. 

Tracel: That’s true. 

Uriah: Yeah. So today I wanted to talk to you about – and tell the folks about – some thoughts around using paper and pen – or pencil, if you favor pencils! – for planning, brainstorming, tracking tasks. And we’ve talked about this before, but I wanted to ask you, what is your system currently for using paper – in any format – for organization?

Tracel: I am a big fan of doing a brain dump, of having a paper and pencil next to me so that when thoughts come into my mind, I can write things down so I can get it out of my mind. And especially if it’s something I don’t have the time right then to address, at least get it out of my mind so I can stop thinking about it. And I know I have a place to come back to it.

Uriah: Yeah, that’s super helpful. I have a confession to make to you and to everybody listening, and that is this: that I have a notebook addiction!

Tracel: Really? 

Uriah: Yeah. One time not too long ago, I stacked up, I pulled all the notebooks from every nook and cranny of my closet and my cupboards and whatnot, and I don’t know – it was at least 20 or 30. So I do, I just love them – quality ones, mostly good ones, but also, you know, non-quality ones!

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: So it’s a bit of a problem. That I enjoy. Can I say that?!

Tracel: Yeah, that’s something we definitely share. Even when I don’t need a notebook, if I see one when I’m out somewhere, I’m like, ‘Oh I’m sure I need a notebook,’ and I just buy it. And it goes with the stack of the others that I already have.

Uriah: One of the things I’m trying to do is use them more thoughtfully and strategically, I guess – not to take the fun out of it! But what I found over time is that I would have so many notebooks and I would write in different ones at different times and keep them in different places. And then I would actually sort of lose track of the ideas that I put down there. 

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: That’s one of the things we’ll talk about today, is how to use notebooks? Unless you’re the kind of person that just has one notebook – good job! You’re doing great, I guess! Just put everything in that one notebook. 

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: But there’s a couple of things to think about in terms of how you record information and how you take advantage of it going forward. But yeah, I’m with you on that – I think paper…there’s nothing like paper and a good pen or a pencil. Put your ideas down. Everybody knows that I love technology, anybody that knows me and I have a really nice iPad that I use all the time, I got the Apple pencil. Have you ever used one before? 

Tracel: I had one and I don’t know what happened to it.

Uriah: Okay, alright. It actually a fantastic experience. They’ve done a really good job. At the same time, it doesn’t touch the feeling and the experience of using paper. Which I think – and I know there are studies on this; I don’t have any to quote for you today! – but the process of putting things down on actual paper, it just helps with creativity, with brainstorming, with retention. I mean, taking notes in general helps with information retention. But I believe there’s something about physically doing that versus typing on a keyboard that actually makes it better.

Tracel: I would agree with that. I think it makes a different connection in your brain when you’re physically writing something down.

Uriah: Yeah. Are you a paper planner person also? 

Tracel: Yes, I am; a big, huge planner. Yes.

Uriah: Tell me about all the planners and notebooks in your life.

Tracel: It’s interesting that you would assume there’s multiple because there are. 

Uriah: Okay.

Tracel: I have different paper planners for different things. I have one specifically for work, where anything that I have to do during the day gets put in that calendar and that’s the only thing that’s in there. And then I have another one that just kind of has the things that I do on a regular basis in my normal life: when I’m going to water my plants, those sorts of things. And then I have another one that has business aspirations and things, the things that I do, aside from the Productive Therapist, that I have in there as well.

Uriah: Okay, nice. And I like that idea, actually. And I’m starting to use something similar where I have one special notebook that’s for the bucket list and the inspirational affirmations, all kinds of things that I want to put in there. That’s pretty cool. I have currently one notebook that lives on my desk for just the random things that I need to write down every day, and then I have one notebook that lives on my nightstand – I’m trying something new where I’m trying to shut down at night and not use technology before bed – it’s, like, the hardest thing I’ve probably ever done!

Tracel: I know!

Uriah: But last night I was just laying in bed and my wife was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I was like, ‘Nothing. I’m just thinking!’ 

Tracel: Like, ‘Are you OK?!’ 

Uriah: I’m not going to touch my phone, not touching my iPad. I’m not going to play Solitaire or whatever, you know? And then I got an idea. And so I picked up my pad and my pencil and I wrote down something that I wanted to look up, but I decided not to look it up in that moment.

Tracel: Right. Very smart to do that.

Uriah: That’s something I’m starting to do because it’s helpful to get – for productivity and, just in general, for your emotional well-being – it’s helpful to get ideas and bits of information out of your head and put them somewhere else. We know this.

Tracel: Right, right, right. And I think the thing that you just mentioned is really important because we can find the answer to things so quickly, we feel like we need to have an answer right now. 

Uriah: Right. 

Tracel: Which is going to take time, it’ll put you right back into using your technology that you’re trying to stop just before bed. So if you just write it down and you can put a pin in it, that’s very smart.

Uriah: Important, but not urgent. 

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: So the one thing that I think it’s helpful to talk about is what you do with the information that you record in these notebooks. 

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: Because for me, I like to use a combination of analog and digital, so I will write down things, let’s say, in the notebook that’s on my desk next to my computer. And then I will transfer those things to my task list and then I’ll cross them out on the notebook. So it’s kind of a system where it goes one place, but then it ends up in another. I think that’s working pretty well for me so far. Do you do something similar or do you just use tasks on paper?

Tracel: No, I do something similar because of some of the work that I do with the Productive Therapist. I actually need an online calendar as well so that I’m not double-booked for things if somebody is booking a call with me or whatever. So I’ve had to start doing that, which was not what I would normally do. And I think writing things, maybe in multiple places, somebody might feel that that’s redundant. But I think it’s based on how your brain works and what makes you productive. One of the problems I have had is not having the right, the correct notebook next to me when I’m writing something down. And then I will have work information in a personal notebook. And like, ‘I know I wrote that down; where was it?’ So I try to keep those separate so that it’s easier for me to go back and find the notes that I did write. 

Uriah: That’s the important part. I don’t have a good system for this, but I’m working on it soon of actually reviewing notes because there’s a lot of information that people put in notebooks that they forget about.

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: That they don’t get to take advantage of in the future. So I’ll tell you two things: so nobody can see this because it’s a podcast, obviously, but in my counseling office, I have this sit-stand desk that has a glass top with a white underneath. And so when I sit here and I have meetings and whatnot, I take my – what do you call this?

Tracel: Dry erase? 

Uriah: And I just write notes all over my desk because the desk is like a whiteboard. And then what I do after that is I take a picture of the notes and then I upload that to a digital note somewhere so I keep track of it. And that’s been pretty cool. And then with notebooks – I just did this the other day, actually – I started to take pictures of the notebook page and then upload that to my digital notes so that I have access to it later. And then it becomes searchable too. That note is searchable. 

Tracel: Yeah, right. That’s so smart. It’s really, really good idea. 

Uriah: Yeah. At some point we’ll have to do a podcast or a video on how I use Evernote, which is a little note-taking application that I’ve used for about eight years or so. I have, like, 9’000 notes in there!

Tracel: I would love to know how you do that. I’ve used it two different times in my life and I don’t think I’ve been using it correctly because it became more of a pain than solving any issues. I’m sure I was user error, so I would love to really talk to you about that.

Uriah: Yeah, it’s an important part of my workflow now. And I will definitely share that with you.

Tracel: Wow, okay, great.

Uriah: Great. So those are a couple of things to think about. And it also comes to mind that you should use the tools that work for you, correct? 

Tracel: Yes. 

Uriah: Just because Evernote works for me doesn’t mean to work for you. You might like to have zero paper in your life, right? Possibly. Or maybe you just want paper – for some people, they can pull that off; other people, it’s more difficult. I mean, if you’re a therapist in private practice, if you have an EHR, you’re going to want to use a digital calendar. But as far as notetaking and tasks, you can totally get away with doing that just on paper. I’m just thinking that through as we’re talking, but it makes sense, right? 

Tracel: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Uriah: But then if you expand and you have a team and maybe you have a virtual assistant or you start a group practice or something like that, you might eventually have to succumb to more technology in your life.

Tracel: Right. 

Uriah: It will make things easier and you can still use paper. I think.

Tracel: I agree. 

Uriah: Yeah, but to tack on to a point that you said earlier, I think it is a good idea to avoid duplicating work, to be putting things on paper and then also digitally in a way that just takes more time. Unless it’s a process that really helps you remember things or it’s important or helpful. 

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: Otherwise, you’re just spending time on busy work.

Tracel: That’s right! Appearing to be organized or have things together, but you don’t

Uriah: And nobody needs to do that anymore, for sure. I hope that was helpful for all of you. I’m super curious to hear from our listeners what tools you use. And this podcast will be also showing up, like all of them, as a blogpost on our site, which you can go comment on if you want to. So feel free to check that out. And thanks, everybody for listening. Have a good one!

Tracel: Alright, bye!

Uriah: Bye!

Uriah Guilford, MFT


Uriah is a group practice owner and the creator of Productive Therapist. He is a technology nerd, a minimalist travel packer, a rock drummer and business development enthusiast.

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