Paper usage habits

Many bloggers described their use cases where they prefer paper and pencil to keyboard and mouse, e. g. in meetings, as a reminder for later googling and wikiing, for sudden ideas, and as in the following case, if undecided what tool to use: Magdalena wrote (in German):

“I think I know now why I often prefer paper notes to computer notes yet: With paper and pencil, for a start, everything is still open. It is what I write down or draw that determines the sense, the meaning, the form, the category. [… With the computer …] I must first decide what I want to do, which category it belongs to, and then start the program for it and then do what I actually want to do.”

I use Accessories > Notepad when undecided, but I understand the occasional requirement of more immediacy than computer tools can currently provide. I observed a similar usage pattern when I took a piece of paper despite sitting in front of the pc. It was usually when there were many windows open, when I suspected that there was a click path that would lead me directly to the ideal appropriate folder, but I could not afford to get distracted by this additional parallel tasks, and was afraid I would lose the thread of thought to be written down.

In similar situations, the above quoted J. Baumgartner recommends note-taking on paper to quickly return to the task at hand (and furthermore, to better leverage the backlinking of the sudden inspiration to the primary task at hand.)

To minimize the distracting foreign-to-task activities, the ideal tool needs so much immediacy that paper still defeats its digital competitors sometimes. Therefore, I don’t mind that I have my computers not always available (it’s not even laptops). Thus, I have many 3.5 inch paper sheets. After a couple of months, I transcribe them into notepad, often preserving their atomic, mobile character by giving them a label that serves both as a header in the notepad file and as a handle in a powerpoint slide that I sometimes use for “card sorting” them.

Details. If someone is interested in the details of my notepad habits. I have the notepad icon in a prominent place at the top of my desktop (but I think it is sufficient to simply add it to the quick launch task bar if you don’t often need dragging object icons onto program icons to open them with other than the default program, which seems to be not very popular any more, anyway).

I always use notepad with a fixed line width of 66 characters (which fit to a printed line if not caring), and no line wrap. This line width is so important to me that I have a small file called 66.txt in my stationaries folder that I can use to reset the right window border to this width if it somehow was lost. This habit originally stems from the mainframe era where everything was restricted to 80 columns, and substracting 8 columns for line numbering (which was important in case your punched cards pile dropped and you had to reconstruct the correct sequence of programming statements 🙂 there were at most 72 left, such that, for emails, the magic limit of 80 was not exceeded even after a few quoted reply indentations. Today, I still think it’s not a bad idea to roughly approximate the optimal reading width of newspaper columns.

The fixed linelength allows me to leverage even single or double line breaks for structuring, and simple “- ” bullets for itemizing. I don’t need much editing comfort that notepad would not offer. Marking lines with shift + arrow-down, or marking words with shift + right-ctrl + arrow-right, and jumping across words with right-ctrl + arrow-right or -left, that’s enough for me. As soon as moving lines around doesn’t satisfy my rearrangement requirements any more, I switch to powerpoint to start drawing connections, anyway.

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