What would you reach for?

Monday, September 19th, 2005
This weekend, a friend asked me the acid test question for any PDA or Tablet PC user:
Eric, if right now, during this phone call, you wanted to quickly make some notes or map out an idea, what would you reach for?

Even before I spoke my answer, I grabbed a colored pen and a piece of scratch paper and made a quick note to myself: "Start using tablet again for note taking;" I tossed the note in my in-box and then answered the question.

Why did I do that?

I've been thinking about why I instinctively reached for the pen and paper. Here's what I came up with:
  • It was ready
  • It was easy
  • I trust it
To be effective, any technology that I'm going to use on a regular basis must at least posess these attributes. These three criteria should be benchmarks that we all use in evaluating the use of any tools, pen and paper. I know that within the GTD community, there's been extensive discussion on the merits of various tools from digital to analog. It's easy to get excited about the bells and whistles of a new technology; the real issue, however, is whether or not  we will use the technology on an ongoing basis and achieve productive benefit.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I use technology, particularly in the context of knowledge management; it's something I do on a regular basis. Lately, I've come of with some surprising conclusions. This is not an anti-fill-in-the-blank post; I'm simply reevaluating the productive value of the tools I use. I do this with clients; I should certainly do this for myself.

In the course of this reevaluation, I've asked myself whether (or not, as the case may be) the tools I use consistent meet most, if not all of these criteria. I've even considered drawing an imaginary line to divide my office and dragging everything, including phone, gadgets, laptop, programs, and data, to the opposite side of the room. Then, starting with a clean work surface, I will discover what's truly essential to my work; the things I reach for. I might try that.

Meanwhile, let me ask you:

If right now, while reading this blog entry, you wanted to quickly make some notes or map out an idea, what would you reach for?

Discussion/Comments (17):

What would you reach for?

Red Pen and Paper (custom planner printout).

Blue pen if finishing.

I prefer it to be stored digitally, but I have not found a good capture tool. Multiple computers and devices doesn't help. A custom planner page printed out works better. It is downloadable at... { Link }


Chris (H-8 guesser!)

Posted at 9/19/2005 10:38:17 AM by CJBROWN

What would you reach for?

I would reach for my tablet. As lame as it might sound I got my tablet almost exclusively for note taking (meetings, voice mail, you name it). I am so prone to using multiple note pads that I lose track of what I write (one for Telephone, One for Rotary, One foe Kiwanis, One for Staff, one for Grad School). My tablet consolidates all this in one place ... Even if I have to wait for it to come off stand by.


Posted at 9/19/2005 11:05:06 AM by Karl

What would you reach for?

Well, I'm a pretty heavy tablet ink notetaker, and I certainly prefer to have my notes in ink in OneNote. But the answer to what I'd use to jot down an idea would depend on a couple of factors:

Is my tablet in a handy mode to accept a note? If my tablet were suspended (or worse hibernated or off), I'd probably reach for the paper. I recently swtiched from a slate (Fujitsu) to convertable (Thinkpad), and at the moment I find I'm only likley to jot down a quick note if I'm in slate mode. My brain hasn't gotten used to having ink available when the keyboard is in front of me. (or even the fact that I can type into OneNote)

What's the lifespan of the idea?

If it's a a temporary note that is only going to be important for a couple minutes (say a reminder to find someone after the phone call, or a phone number I'll only need once) then I'm more likely to use paper. I percieve Tablet ink as being slightly more work on my part, so I tend to reserve it for things I might need to save/reference again.

Posted at 9/19/2005 11:13:49 AM by Jason Goldberg

What would you reach for?

Pen on large post-it sheet. Can be transfered, affixed or scrapped easily. And I always doodle when on the phone, this helps my concentration.

Posted at 9/19/2005 11:19:17 AM by Sylvain Lemire

What would you reach for?

If my pocket pc is anywhere nearby (and it usually is) then that is what I will use. Otherwise, pen and paper.

Posted at 9/19/2005 11:46:42 AM by Michael Nelson

What would you reach for?

I use an HP iPAQ 4150. I use it 99% of the time I'm away from my desk.

At my desk, I keep Outlook open and enter Tasks into it. My iPAQ is synced abd auto-syncing. While on the phone, I keep a lined note pad on my desk and record things there. In meetings, I use the paper note pad to record Tasks and other notes.

With the busy life I lead, this is what works for me and I'll stick with it unless I can be convinced something better will work quicker and easier, without a lot of learn time.

Posted at 9/19/2005 12:22:23 PM by Dean

What would you reach for?

I'd reach for a sheet of note paper or my planner pad.

Just yesterday I was considering using www.taskpro.com for implementing a pseudo GTD system...and came to the conclusion that I seem to regressing. I actually prefer the analog route now.

One of the questions I asked myself was this...if I was in a pseudo New Orleans situation without power for any extended time, what use is having a calendar that requires electricity? Of course then I said, what do I need a calendar for anyway if I'm in that kind of a situation. :)

This morning I was teaching my son some math concepts. I didn't reach for my tablet. I got out a sheet of scrap paper and a pencil and we sat down and went to work. My tablet and computer were both on and right next to me.

My new thoughts are along the lines of simplicity...I like electricity and batteries not required, minimal annual expenditures, and "technology" that doesn't become obsolete.

Posted at 9/19/2005 12:32:30 PM by Kevin Tupper

What would you reach for?

My Mac Powerbook G4 running Lotus Notes, Notes because with one replication any notes I take are backed up without a single thought about it.

Paper is too easily lost, in fact, when someone in my own office gives me something on paper I throw it into a trash can right in front of them. Why? Because I don't have an office, other than the one parked outside, and I'm not going to carry around 50 tons of paper because it's more convenient for someone else to give it to me. Any notes on paper I happen to make are quickly placed in Lotus Notes, either as a draft in my email, or in a database, or my own journal.

Lines of simplicity? Paper isn't simple. It stacks up. If it gets high enough, it'll fall on you, and you'll get injured. :)

It gets lost, with no chance of backup. It's a fire hazard. It fills landfills. Do I need to keep going? :)

Posted at 9/19/2005 1:07:33 PM by Jon Johnston

What would you reach for?


Once again, you make us all think. Rather than fill your comments with a long response. Head over to the Wicked Stage for some thoughts.

(by the way, I printed your post into OneNote, and scribbled some of my thoughts on it throughout the day on the way to composing my thoughts.)

Posted at 9/19/2005 3:01:17 PM by Warner Crocker

What would you reach for?

By default, I would use Outlook as that's what I have open - straight into a task. If I'm not near that, I'll use whatever is handiest - either my PPC to enter straight into a task or a piece of paper that I then later enter as a task. No tablet PC here. :-/

Posted at 9/19/2005 3:17:59 PM by Peter

What would you reach for?

I have three month old tablet pc, and I would still grab a piece of paper and pen. I think it stems from the fact that my tablet is predimonately in laptop mode. Consequently, it's a hassle to get it into tablet mode even though it's a swivel and quick onenote button click. I guess I'm still integrating the tablet into my workflow.

Posted at 9/19/2005 6:07:04 PM by Scott

What would you reach for?

I like post its as they remain in my way. It's more difficult to forget they are still there reminding me of tasks I have still not completed. It's also easier for me to remember where they are, probably related to some spatial memory quirks in my brains.

But I have the same kind of trouble with e-books, e-documents and whats at the bottom of email inbox. With paper documents I find better my way back as I have better spatial feeling about where the information is located.

Posted at 9/19/2005 9:42:24 PM by anthony

What would you reach for?

A couple of weeks ago, I'd say a post-it note and pen. Recently I'm trying to get rid of the paper surrounding my desk and have setup my OneNote task icon to open a quick note. It launches quickly, and is searchable.

If it's only a minor reminder with no 'real' information, I use Ink Desktop.

Otherwise, I'm really trying to stop using my post-it pad. Sometimes I feel surrounded by those darn things.

Posted at 9/20/2005 8:42:19 PM by Vince Anido

What would you reach for?

Index cards. I keep a few by the phone, just in case. I jot down all the important information on them, and every few hours, process them into the requisite places in my planner. Each morning I start with a few clean ones, and if there's a particular series of calls I'm expecting to get --say, in response to a particular ad-- I'll put a header atop that card and group the data together for easier handling. I used to do this electronically, but this approach just seemed so much more natural to me, and thus the one I tended to fall back on.

On particularly busy days when I'm expecting quite an influx of info (say, there's meeting after meeting), I'll turn to a section of the planner (called "Inbox") stuffed with regular lined paper. I fill that up with rough notes, and process at end of day.


Posted at 9/21/2005 8:36:43 AM by Douglas Johnston

What would you reach for?

When I'm in my office, I have MS One Note on all the time and notes are taken there while I'm on the phone or during meetings. I have a section called "In Box" that is my temporary holding place for notes that need to be filed with a project or stored as reminders. My M200 is almost always in laptop mode while at my desk, unless i'm in a meeting outside my office, then it's always in slate mode. as for brain storming, I've gotten in the habit of using MindJets Mind Manager to handle that need. I would be hard pressed to go back to paper now as paper is very much a "loseable" commodity. Plus the fact that I can seldom find a pen in my office...gremlins keep taking them!


Posted at 9/22/2005 8:12:00 AM by JB Smith

What would you reach for?

My instinct is still pen and paper when I'm at home or at my desk at work, but I intend to train myself out of that because despite initial appearances pen and paper is not simpler, easier or less hassle. I bought the tablet because paper was getting out of hand and proving to be less than useful.

When I'm running around I usually use my PDA and long ago stopped carrying a little notebook. I bought my first PDA because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find something I knew I'd scribbled somewhere in the notebook at sometime in the past. With the PDA I can normally figure out a search that will find what I'm after, plus I have a backup in two other locations in case the PDA gets stolen or destroyed.

Posted at 9/22/2005 12:25:32 PM by Ian

What would you reach for?

I'd e-mail the link to this post and the notes to myself.

Posted at 9/29/2008 12:07:47 AM by Dario

Discussion for this entry is now closed.