Have you been struggling to be productive? Do you feel guilty towards your goals? Do you feel your life is messed up and needs more organization? Lots of details you can’t handle and don’t know which system will help you, your mobile (digital) or your notebook (analog)?

Being in a digital world, full of distractions and data over-consumption, we all use a digital system for productivity in one way or another. It might as well seem that a digital system is the answer to all the mess, distractions, and short span of attention we are all facing prior to the digitizing of the world. On the contrary, if the digital world is causing all these distractions and killing our attention span, it shouldn’t be the answer if it is already in question. But in a digital world, we have to be connected, and in some way, we already adapted some of our behaviors to the digital world.

The no-system life

If you have no system in place for your work/life tasks, goals and values, I bet you are struggling with your time management, productivity, performance and on top of all that, you are stressed as hell. The no-system life is built on the belief that you will remember every task and every goal, that your brain should work 24/7 to keep you motivated and goal driven, which might put your brain on fire, and make you feel burn-out.

The digital system

You might think that the solution to all the hassle and mess is to use any of the digital apps for productivity. Although it is better than no system at all, it has its drawbacks.

Pros of a digital system

  • Synchronization saves a lot of time and effort in communication
  • No physical space
  • Accessibility from anywhere

Cons of a digital system

  • You need a device to access it
  • You need to recharge your device
  • You are at risk of being distracted by notifications, emails and messages while you are using the system.
  • You might lose focus
  • Long exposure to screens hurt your bedtime rest and ability to sleep effortlessly and raises stress.

Examples of digital systems

  • Google Drive
  • Google Calendar
  • Team task management solutions: examples: trello, invision, …..etc.
  • Google spreadsheets
  • Google Keep
  • Evernote

When is it best to use it?

If you want it to be shareable, collaborative or want to archive it and get back to it later without taking much physical space.

The analog system

With all the psychological drawbacks of the digital system, you might think that the analog system is the answer. Although I use an analog system, and that makes me biased here, but an analog system also, has some drawbacks you need to keep in mind if you are going to adapt it.

Pros of an analog system

  • Creativity
  • Customizability
  • Personal
  • Just fits your needs, and nothing else
  • You don’t need to recharge it and you don’t need any internet connection for it to work
  • No distractions, no notifications, and no WhatsApp messages that can interrupt your train of thought.

Cons of an analog system

  • Security: if you forget it anywhere, you need to make sure you have put your contact information on it, so if someone found it, they can return it.
  • Your cup of coffee might ruin all your inked plans, or just give them a vintage color and character.
  • Physical space if you are willing to archive them.

Examples of analog systems

  • GTD (Getting things done): uses sticky notes, a catch note, and a notebook.
  • Mise-en-place: uses one two-page spread notebook.
  • Bullet Journal: an analog system that incorporates any of the analog systems, whether it is already known, or custom and personal. It uses one notebook for all.
  • Simple Master-list & to-do list(s): uses two or more sheets to organize your tasks, sometimes in categories and sometimes in one list.
  • Gnatt Chart: Collaborative work spread out in one timeline that allows everyone to know about other projects (dependent or independent) that other people are working on.

When is it best to use it?

When you need to think and scrabble, on a daily basis, something you don’t need to share, to organize and think on paper, when you need to check it and keep it in sight while working.

The hybrid mix

You don’t have to stick to any of the two systems and deal with its cons. You can mix and match between both, so you can benefit from the creativity-inducing nature of the analog system, and still be updated and connected through the digital system.

How I mix my systems

  • Google Calendar for meetings, appointments, monthly and annual reminders.
  • Bullet Journal (analog system) for weekly planning, daily task lists, therapy notes, workshop plans, yearly and monthly goals, inspirations, grocery list, and jotting down ideas and inspirations.
  • Trello for team tasks and following up with my team and managers
  • Google Drive for work tasks and collaborative work.
  • Evernote for university essays, while I keep also an analog notebook for study notes, diagrams, and revisions.

Generally speaking, it is easy to keep being digital, because all the world around us now is digital. Going analog is what is different, so you will benefit from the digital systems around you. It is highly probable that you will forget about the analog. As I always say: “Keep a notebook in your pocket, you might need it when your phone is dead.”

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