avatarSara V


Use Pen and Paper, Not Your Devices

The Power of a Productivity System

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash


It’s been nearly a year since I joined the professional world of information security. One of the unexpected changes I’ve discovered is now much I hate staring at a computer all day. My previous positions involved walking over 4 miles per day and consistently being on the computer. In my current position, I’m sitting at a computer all day. When I want to study or setup a homelab, I don’t want to look at another computer screen. Throughout the week, I’m reminded why I hate staring at the pixels. Sunday morning rolls around and the dreaded screen time notification pops up.

5 hours/day across my personal devices + 8–9 hours/day on my work computer + watching a show or two each day with my husband.

For awhile now, these numbers have been bothering me: I have zero energy, I don’t want to study, there’s a black dot in my vision, hardly any creativity, l can’t focus on much, and when I do, I want to have background noise from a YouTube video. I’ve tried “just being on my phone less.” Ultimately, this is not a sustainable or practical system. Finding ways to build replace our current systems will be the next article.


I won’t say much about retention when it comes to hand-written notes. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably come across multiple articles citing hand-written is better than typed. However, the type of handwritten notes can hugely differ. Mind maps are the best form of note taking.


Procrastination and motivation are heavily intertwined. Motivation relies on too many factors to be consistent — events from earlier, sleeping, food, environment, etc. The one consistency is if we rely on motivation to complete our goals, we will procrastinate and produce inconsistent work.

Let’s take a look at the graph below. The graphed line represents us our motivation when trying to complete a task. The top shades areas represent times where we produce our best work. If you notice, that line is not linear. Our motivation fluctuates all the time. Instead of relying on motivation, we want to make the line linear by forming a habit. If the productivity line is linear, we’re always producing (hopefully) good work.

Credit to Justin Sung and the team from iCanStudy for pulling this evidence from peer reviewed articles.

By using motivation as the driving force to productivity, I feel like I can only write during periods of high motivation. Those periods of low motivation are filled with half hour YouTube scrolls and no words. Multiple this by multiple times a day and you still get no words and a five hours of YouTube. The following day, I still see no words and the cycle repeats. With the presence of only a pen and sheet of paper, it will be much easier to develop a habit of using an analog system.

It’s Ours

Opening a notebook allows you to be as free as the edge of the page. Opening up you phone allows you to be as creative as the app allows. What else does the app allow? Well, if you use Notion, your content can be read by the employees or anyone who compromises Notion servers. What happens if the app gets bought out or cuts off compatibility to your device? What about that nice feature that’s no longer part of the latest upgrade. You have to manually migrate your data to a new tool where the same possibilities arise.

While paper can be lost, shredded, etc. at least it’s ours. We’re able refer to newspapers from over a century ago but I can’t even read an article from this year. We’re able to refer to journals from great scientists and philosophers, but can’t even recover a deleted file.

ZACINTHEWILD from YouTube talks about this more in the below clip:

Being Present

If you’re on the internet and looking at any sort of productivity content, you’ll see the word “flow” which was popularized by Cal Newport in Deep Work. Flow represents the state of such deep focus in the work that you lose sight of your surroundings. I don’t like the representation of flow, I think it only applies to work. I enjoy the term “present.” Being present is about anything having your undivided attention where we get lost in what we’re doing. Flow cannot carry over to relationships but presence can.

With devices, the temptation to swipe over to another app is always there. There’s hardly any pause to actually think if losing your focus is worth watching that 10 second video that you won’t remember 10 minutes from now. Often times, scrolling on our phone is just a quick little dopamine hit. If we replace the dopamine hit with being present, we will develop a habit and build our Episodic Future Thinking. Using our brain’s EFT system, we leverage cognitively intensively activities like being fully present in our lives more rewarding.

By leaving never erasing or deleting our mistakes, we can reflect on them throughout time. Reflecting on our journeys and mistakes, both in life and menial tasks, we can continue to grow, build our habits, and build our reliance on our EFT rather than dopamine. YouTube’s Carl Pullenin excellently defines the importance of free thinking and presence:

“Paper notes help you think deeper and prevents you from editing the document as you think.”

Accomplishments & Growth

I’m not hugely into productivity, not always trying to find ways to maximize my time or output. Just someone who enjoys seeing how much they’ve grown. When you complete a class or a major project, what’s the best way to see your accomplishments? The satisfaction you feel doing all those scrolls on your computer versus turning over page by page. A computer certainly does not feel as gratifying as see all your work in it’s entirety. I regularly complete 6 or 3 month “journeys” where I try to accomplish a goal. I have notebooks filled with cat scratch, projects, and ideas. Flipping through the pages on the last day is an indescribable feeling and exactly the kind of “motivation” I need to keep going.


With notebooks, we’re fully present. We’re free thinking on our page. We can refer back to thoughts we had 10 years ago and see how much we’ve grown since then. I love being able to see how far I’ve come in 6 months by viewing all the mistakes and the revisions. We’re able to write faster, draw detailed pictures, and be as free as we want on the page. Being fully present with your thoughts and the notebook is a powerful feeling. You’ll be able to carry that presence into your relationships, work, and hobbies. Walking away from the screen lets us rely less on motivation and “when the urge strikes.” I’m actually excited to write, study, and lab again. By sharing this, I hope you find ways to be more analog and experience the joy of a sound mind.

This article is longer than most of mine. I really enjoyed the process of researching and writing this. If you also enjoyed it, I’d recommended swapping out some of your digital systems for paper and give this a like or comment!

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