Real Life Experiments: Going from Digital to Analogue (Part 1)

This is a guest article by Alastair, faithful D*I*Y Planner reader. Al is technology/gadget obsessed nut with more PDA's, keyboards, mice, PC's etc than would normally be considered sane. He is obsessed with books, writing, organisational tools and has an ingrained belief that some things will always be better done the "old fashioned" way because it's still the best way to do them. He also has an iPod loaded with music from Mozart to Motorhead and he has a wonderful, tolerant girlfriend he doesn't deserve; and two cats that politely humour him.

This is my story. Of how I came to use digital gadgets and then how I got myself out of using them. As far back as I can remember I've always kept a diary. At first, it was all paper based. Then one day, I saw my first Palm Pilot and decided that I couldn't live without one. This simple moment started my quest to discover the perfect electronic planning solution. Of course, in the beginning I didn't own a computer, so that complicated my use of the Palm. That and the fact that I decided I could live perfectly well without the new toy. So into “the drawer” it went and I didn't think anything more about it and returned to my trusty diary and notebook. Peace was restored in the form of a brown leather, personal Filofax.

In 2003, Dell released the Axim X5 Pocket PC and again, the gadget bug bit me. Except this time it worked and just did exactly what I asked it to do. A year or so later, its big brother, the X50v, arrived (which I think is still the best Pocket PC ever made). Once again the gadget bug bit me and I started using this new device to capture my thoughts and appointments. Eventually, I graduated to the X51v but I was never as happy as I had been with the X50v. Being dissatisfied with the new system, I started looking for alternatives. During a brief meeting with an IT consultant, I discovered the Palm Treo 650.

Hooked on this new device, I made the move to an integrated device about a year and a half ago. My current system is MS Outlook based and I use it both at home and at work and all my data gets synchronized with my Treo. It works and does not cause me any real headaches. Whilst it’s been an interesting year and a half somehow my Treo is just not enough; and this is where the story of my returning to an analog lifestyle really begins.

The digital age may have brought many advantages but I also find that it comes with its own unique disadvantages. As we rely more and more in digital systems so does the feeling that our lives spin out of control. Suddenly without warning, meetings started appearing on my schedule. Seeing the free time in my life rapidly shrinking, gave me the impression that my life was out of my own control. To me, this lack of consultation denotes a lack of courtesy and as I looked at the new entry in my schedule I had a vague recollection of someone briefly mentioning that they let me know about the meeting.

The more I saw this happening, the more out of control my life felt and the more I yearned to return to an analogue system. In this quaint "old fashioned" way, I would carry a diary with me.. and then if people wanted my time, they would have to talk to me first. Analogue systems, in my opinion, promote communication, which can only be a good thing. We all go too many meetings that are utterly unnecessary and in many cases agreements can often be reached with a brief telephone call because all the person organizing the meeting usually wants to do is talk to you, person to person.

At the beginning of this year, another Palm user wrote an article about their experimentation with a return to a paper based system. I printed this out and promptly forgot about it. A few months later I found the print out, and reread it; it made me think about the benefits of an analogue system. Searching for others like me, I found that the idea of returning to paper was not an isolated case and thanks to various Google searches, reading many, many articles, and extending my research into products and systems, I was convinced that paper-based systems were making a comeback.

It has been a positive experience to find so many people committed to and returning to an analogue based lifestyle. I've noticed how happy people are, and how paper gave them a greater sense of control over their lives. This was the moment I decided to make the jump back to paper.

First I needed to test out my theory of returning to a paper based system. To do this I printed out month to view pages from Outlook and attached a cover and a clip and started to use it as my diary alongside the current system. The effect was almost immediate. I felt calmer, far more in control of my life than I had felt for a long time. I now use Outlook as my backup and reprint the current month a couple of times during the month to keep it tidy and again at the beginning of the following month to archive it. The Monthly view is a very useful quick reference tool, particularly if you are planning, and need a complete overview of your commitments for a given period of time. The comparative test, over the last three months, has shown me that a combined analogue/digital system works better for me than a purely digital one and consequently it’s worth the effort and commitment of making the return to an analogue based system.

In August, I also ordered and bought 7 Moleskines. One Page-per-Day Diary for 2008 from Simply Moleskines and 6 more Moleskine notebooks in both large and pocket sized, from Waterstones (I believe they were on a buy 2, get the third free sale). I had done it, I had taken the first step in moving back over to an analogue system. Except there was one small problem, it's one thing to have the gadgets. But it's another thing to actually KNOW HOW you are going to use them. And at this point, I had no idea how I was going to use my new notebooks. I needed a system and didn't have one to make the transition easy. A diary and pile of notebooks look nice but they don’t actually constitute a system.

As a result of this hole in my thinking, the euphoria of my brave new world dried up faster than a puddle in the desert. I knew I needed to do something and fast. I picked up a copy of "Getting Things Done" and whilst reading this I reviewed my current system and did more online research to discover what other people have been doing. GTD doesn't solve all my problems but it did make me think differently. Which is what I needed to shift my approach to and overall viewpoint of how I work, my system for achieving things, and what I need from it. It also gave me a clear plan for developing my own Levenger-style PDA that supported my new system by enabling me to track my work; and for that alone, I am very grateful.

On January 1st, 2008 I implemented my Moleskine analogue based system. I plan on making my own brown, leather cover (still undecided on whether or not I want a pen loop and how to keep it closed). I may use a cut out similar to the gfeller design to allow me to continue to use the elastic band built into the Moleskine or I may opt to add a strap and toggle to secure it. Too many decisions, too little time!

The plan for 2008 onwards, is to use my Moleskine as my primary diary and to use MS Outlook as my digital backup. This will enable me to print off month to view sheets which, while in use, reside in the diary at the current day. Once the month is complete, I'll print out a final draft of the month and then archive it on the first day of the month it refers to. At this point, a new month to view sheet gets printed used.

For the first couple of months I will continue to use my Treo and measure the level of usefulness it provides and at that point decide on whether to continue to sync it with Outlook. I know this system will need some tweaking along the way, but I hope that great things come out of this experiment. If not then I hope, if nothing else, my life gets calmer and feels more in my control.

I'll be returning to this later this year when I will write down my thoughts about how this experiment worked, didn't work, developed and the effect, if any, it had on my life.

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great write up!

innowen - always enjoy reading your posts! Can you answer a few questions??

1) What size moleskine are you using for your journal?
2) What size do you print your calendar?
3) What do you mean by "journal"? Diary? To do list?

I am currently working on the same type of system, hence all of the questions!

nay nay

Good questions, wrong person to answer them

nay nay,

Alas i cannot answer you on this one for it is not my experiment. This is the experiment of Alastair, faithful reader of D*I*Y Planner. I only posted his article.

You can contact him via his profile or click his name "Al" in article above.

Sorry for any confusion this may have made. I do hope Al's able to answer your questions.



OOPS! Didn't even catch that it was coming from Alastair! Sorry about that...

Al - any answers to the questions?
nay nay

Answers for nay nay

Hi nay nay

Glad you enjoyed the post, innowen was a great help putting it together and deserves plenty of credit for all the hard work and effort involved and for being brave enough to propose I write "Part 2"!

1. I am using a large size Moleskine, day per page diary, complete with the leather cover I talked about combined with my home brew "levenger" inspired PDA; I saw it as an upgrade to my Hipster :-) I divided this into various sections to manage task flow. This is still under scrutiny because I ma not happy with it at present and I am still finalizing my note cards; little things like getting line spacing right and all that. It is currently divided into Next Action, Projects, Agenda and SOTR (Somewhere Over The Rainbow - for those one day maybe tasks)

2. I print my calendar from MS Outlook using the month view option at A4; I use it purely as quick a reference tool - it's useful when planning.

3. I can't find the reference to "journal"? Diary? To do list? you refer to but email me or post here and I can go into more detail about what I am trying out.

Happy to help or answer any questions just drop me a line etc

Same Thoughts

I have had feelings like this for a long time now but it wasn't until just over two months ago that I could really pin-point what my problem was. I realized that this whole idea of constantly being linked to a computer and almost having all my work and tasks practically run through the computer and/or Internet was not making me feel anymore productive (much less I should think) and that it was really hindering my thoughts and workability. I then did what the next computer-literate person would do, I searched Google for this idea about getting away from computers enough so that I felt my work was really what I wanted it to be and I started coming across bands of others with the exact same feelings of myself. Truly, I thought, metaphorically, that I was drowning within the times of today under all the information and possibility. I quickly started asking myself, "Should I just buckle-down and concentrate and stop worrying about silly things like this?"

After my birthday last October I got a Moleskine large journal for keeping my thoughts and ideas together. At first I think I was enraptured by the idea that my thoughts would fill books like these and perhaps many years down the line perhaps my children and grandchildren would cherish items such as these. I quickly fell in love with keeping my writing localized within the Moleskine's pages and, more importantly, off the computer. Today, I use Moleskine products for many of my needs - journal, notes, calendar - almost all writing I do in some form. My only real resolution this year was to stick with more paper-based methods for most of my work and planning. Anything that wouldn't really require anything digital. So far I am doing well.

I think the true problem with the computer world of organization is that there truly are too many choices. There are countless programs offering this and that for the next best thing to boost your productivity or whatever it is you are trying to do. I have tried so many now that I look back upon the past couple years and realize never have I found one perfectly satisfactory. The closest items I would give credit to for being nearly satisfactory are both the Google Reader for RSS feeds (the best program by far for this process) and Gmail for email. Besides those, I keep all my notes and such that need to be digitized in simple .txt files that can quickly be converted to Latex when printing is required. The only time I use MS Word is for reading things that are sent to me or if it is required for collaboration purposes. Too many choices have people spinning their wheels repeatedly and always questioning whether the next program might just be that much better than the one they are using now. People talk about wanting to be productive but how many of these same people continually spend time trying new programs, removing them, re-trying once a new version comes out, removing them again. It is truly an endless process and the person who is truly satisfied with a digital program and never needs worry or care about using the next new thing is a very unique individual I think.

If I seriously look at what it is I can do on a piece of regular paper and then trying that same thing on computer, the poor computer loses hands down. I can do quick sketches, tables, figures, short form notes, quick ideas and so much more in a matter of seconds. How long does it take you do draw that same figure into Visio properly? It is definitely a matter of human nature to get caught-up in things that we 'think' will boost all our productivity and provide us with so much help that we forget that it really isn't helping all that much and were we to stick with a more natural process it would be so much for the better.

It has really been a pleasure to find so many people who think like I do about the state of how we are getting carried away with the need of digital items. I hope more people can catch on to this thought process to.

Gadget Crazy

I to have a great passion for gadgets and electronics, said to improve the productivity of life. Over the past few months I have been struggling with going to a paper based way of life. I am slowly getting very fed up with the expense and constant upgrades associated with the tech-based lifestyle I have lived with for several years. I have had many PDA's and now PDA cell phones and just have gotten disheartened thinking that my journal may not be read by my children in the future because of outdated technology. I could print everything out but, isn't that defeating the purpose of putting it in an electronic format. I have just received my first Levenger catalog and am giving more than a serious thought to going back to basics and keeping everything on paper.
For anyone reading this any words of encouragement or advice with this transition would be greatly appreciated.

You'll find support here

I left the gadget world a few years ago, but not by choice. My company was no longer supporting the Palm Pilot platform, only "crackberrys" and those gadgets were only being given to higher levels of management.

So even though I'm required to use my online corporate calendar, I had no way to "sync" it except for printing it. It was a blessing in disguise. With a gadget, I've always felt tied to the company even off-hours. Now, I'm free to leave work at work and play when at home. Paper is not always as efficient, but I seem to have better control as opposed to having the gadget control how I operate.

You may have to play with a combination of tech/non-tech applications, and like many of us, you'll be tweaking your system to suit your needs for what seems like ages. That's the beauty of the DIY world -- you make your system your very own. Good luck!

It's hard to find the right

It's hard to find the right words but I can assure you it is a better world, for me at least, I haven't given up gadgets and if you like them I wouldn't - I have just got an EEE PC and it's fun - just change your perspective on them, for me they have shifted from being daily tools to recreational things.

I took inspiration from the story of Cortes burning his ships as a way of ensuring his men achieved what they set out to do. By buying a Moleskine and a big piece of leather to make a cover for it put me in a position where and I couldn't justify the purchases unless I was prepared to do something with them; because it would of been too easy to think I don't have the time I'll do it next year etc.

I wouldn't say it is easy making the adjustment, I'm still working on it, but it is worth it in the end. The good thing about your paper journal is that it will only ever need two things; you to write in it and light to read it by; there isn't a single electronic gadget in the world that has such minimal requirements.

If you need further encouragement paper was deemed the best technical solution to data storage a few years ago at a UK nuclear powerstation because as you rightly point out technology dates and there is no guarantee of future compatibility.

Future Technology Compatibility

This is a big worry for me - mainly on the business side of things. You can hope and pray that if you scan all of your paper into a .pdf format that you would be able to access that file forever... But, how do we know for sure? Does this worry anyone else? I am in the investment industry where we have to keep records of every single thing we do (every letter sent out, newsletter, trade made, statements, etc.) for many many years. It just seems like keeping all of this in paper format is less worrisome (unless you count FIRE as a worry!). I just do not know what step to take when it comes to archiving such items...

This probably wasn't the forum for this comment... sorry kids!

nay nay

Every technology


Every technology has its pros and cons--including no technology. That is, if you rely on memory, you don't even know when your memory has failed until after. If you rely on paper, you have to consider the lack of backups, risk of fire and water damage, etc. If you rely on electronics, you have to consider electricity, compatibility, etc.

They all have drawbacks. It just depends which drawbacks are the 'worst' in your personal priority schema.

I recently moved all of my notes and to-dos into a piece of software called EssentialPIM. What I needed was a note-keeping place where I could see everything together, categorized the way I needed, retrievable, etc. It needed to be electronic because that's where all the stuff comes in--email, meeting notes, file attachments.. The stuff that was handwritten was getting lost unless I transcribed it into electronic form. Likewise I wanted a 'dashboard' for my projects to see who was assigned to what, what was left to be completed.

I liked the tool enough for my work stuff that I decided to use it for personal stuff too. There's a free version and a licensed version, I bought a license.

I just got back from a trip to the other side of the country, and the rest of the team liked the software enough they wanted it too. Can't quite see me schlepping my 3x5 box around, but the flash drive with my files & app is easy to tote, easy to move from PC to PC, easy to backup..

Honestly, I'm getting fed up with all the paper crud on my desk. I end up shuffling through the pile looking for things, and I hate that. Yah, filing system would help that, but setting up a new 'file folder' on the PC is faster than digging out the labelmaker and paper folders. And since there will be more travel in my future, portability of data is definitely a key factor.

My priority set keeps evolving. I've been through all the paper sizes and a couple of apps, and I'm still trying to find the right setup. This gadget, though, is it for the project notes. No need to look any further for snippets of info. And I can print to 3x5 with it, so the paper copy can be another backup. Can't get away without a paper copy of some stuff, but it's more comforting to know that every piece of data can be found in at least TWO different places. Takes more talent to lose something twice.


moleskine custom datebook

I've owned the Palm 1000 and every iteration since. While I can't get away from my electronic work date book and folk's incessant double/triple booking me, I CAN manage my private life.

So now my privite date book is all analog.

I didn't like the Moleskine date books either. So here's what I decided to do for 2008: Make my own custom date book.

week view. (More details at flickr.)
month view

It works great for me.

insomnia cure

I thought I was the only one

He he he -- I thought I was the only techie nerd who had since dumped all Palm/PDA planning gizmos and went back to paper and pencil. Good to know there are more of us out there!!!

I also love the Moleskine planners/noteboks, and have stocked up on them like crazy over the past year or so. They are way nice. It's too bad we don't have the equivalent products made in the USA. I guess we can still grow pencil wood, though.

I used to be a Franklin planner nerd before the PDA madness hit. I think I like the Moleskine sewn binding planners better now, though. I got a pocket sized red planner for Christmas.

I have been using mechanical pencils exclusively (instead of pens) at work since 2005. But recently I discovered that there are still a lot of great wooden pencils available. I just ordered $60 worth of them from yesterday. It will be fun to get back to the organic experience of a good wooden pencil, for sure.

Thanks for putting up these blogs!