On Life and Love

Task-tracking: paper vs. tech

Somehow, I keep coming back to paper.

I’ve had no fewer than eight iterations of various Palm and WinCE PDAs as well as my current iPhone. I’ve tried plenty of task tracking apps on those, on the desktop, and on the web, and I always come back to paper.

The main issue for me tends to be data entry. Quick notes, a quick sketch, a doodle–the iPhone (a slow 3G, no less) is way too slow. By the time I swipe, put in my password, and bring up the relevant application, it’s been 15 seconds and I might as well take the time to properly “file” the thought or task rather than just dropping it into my “inbox”. Usually stuff just doesn’t end up in the system.

Keeping access everywhere drops desktop apps right out of the running. My last system used Remember the Milk, which has an iPhone app and a web version. It was pretty slick, but over-featured, and, again, data entry on the iPhone is too slow.

So now I’m back to my classic notebook. It’s not a Moleskine–who needs that brand loyalty?–but it’s a fuzzy faux-seude and the paper is lightly lined. I use hard plastic tabs to separate contexts/lists (Home, Errands, Phone, Computer, MITs, Books, Projects, etc.). The tabs are good enough that when I need to move to the next available empty page, they peel off and restick just fine without tearing the paper or falling out.

The iPhone is certainly more compact, though. I don’t enjoy adding more weight to my purse, and I’m having to get back into the habit of carrying it around around. But I do enjoy writing with good pens, letting my handwriting or corrections remind me of the details of an idea, and that weird sense of accomplishment that comes with filling the pages of a notebook with completed tasks and ideas. You just don’t get that with a computerized list that keeps itself tidy and sorts itself.


  • Luke

    I use Evernote for note keeping tasks – I always forget to properly update my calendar and todo lists if I just use my notebook. Or if I have data that I need to save and access from lots of different places (syncs to web, android (prolly iphone as well), desktop so available everywhere).

    I also use paper to keep track of quick work requests, or to update later into digital. Still can’t read my handwriting if I let it sit for more than a few days.

    And I use Reqall for my daily and weekly todo’s…mostly because I can set it to email, IM, and txt me to remind me to get things done.

    • Melissa

      Yeah, I definitely like the idea of a paper “inbox” for those quick work requests, like you mentioned, even if it gets digitized later. I do keep my calendar online in GCal so that I can share stuff, get alerts, add and remove easily. For me, normal todos don’t get alerts, and date-sensitive ones go on my calendar.

  • Michael

    thank you! i’m still struggling with this. since i am ALWAYS with my friggin laptop, i’ve been using omnifocus and I like it fine, but it needs a web interface. BUT there are many occasions after putting it away to prep to travel to next mtg when i talk with people and need to enter tasks. the iphone 3g is WAY too slow for this. I tried Tucker(http://codefox.livejournal.com/ )’s Android from htc back in the day, and it was too slow also. Dr. Welch(http://cs.unc.edu/~welch/) mentioned an iphone app that he would use to just record a quick voice note. so use case being: left office, walking to a meeting, think of task, pick up phone, unlock, hit button, speak, done. then the phone would send the voice thing to him (and try to transcribe it?) and he would enter it once he got somewhere. a little faster than tapping it out right at that minute.