When Does Pen and Paper Slow a Freelancer’s Productivity?

Pen and paper. Quite arguably the greatest productivity tool ever created to date. Right? Right. Well, while some people like to stick to the old school method of organization, I myself am somewhat of an online productivity junkie (now) and self-proclaimed to-do list recoveree. Is that a word? Hope so… it is now.

Since you’re reading this, and probably a freelancer, I’m sure you know that sometimes pen and paper is a good solution–mainly because we aren’t on salary for our work and sometimes can’t just go spend, spend and spend more on fun organizational toys. Sometimes you have to stop and think though: are you actually slowing down your productivity, or helping it?

Here are five freelancing situations where pen and paper will do nothing but weigh you down. I suggest using a new, faster, and shinier application or service.

Situation 1: Your List Requires Frequent Updates

I’ve honestly been a sucker for the list. There’s something awesome about going through and crossing out something you’ve finished. It’s a small victory of sorts–and can make you push on when you have a daunting list of…. oh, say 50 more.

But erasing, changing, scratching out and editing will also generally involve several pages when the list lasts for a while, and thanks to crossed out items, important unfinished tasks can be lost within the cluster of completed ones. There’s also white-out, but that’s messy and unnecessary. I’ve never liked the look of it myself. Or, the smell.

The solution: Google Tasks, Evernote, and Remember the Milk—all of them free, all of them web based, and all of them accessible on your mobile device, so you aren’t chained to your desk, leaning over your to-do list like a mad man (women).

I also love the action method. They have an offline version you can use, and I still use the action runner…sometimes. It’s a guilty pleasure.

Situation 2: Folders Like an Encroaching Army

If you are up to your eyeballs in files, notes, print outs, and folders to keep together client information, then it’s time to move to an online system, or die a slow painful death full of paper cuts and drowning amongst papers. I vote for the online system.

The solution: Fully online systems, such as OpenOffice, Google Docs, and the much anticipated cloud version of Microsoft Office will all allow you to store important files on the web, and retrieve them from anywhere.

Situation 3: You’re Still Carrying a Planner

You can save yourself some effort by combining your planner’s information into your mobile device. I’m a female, and personally, I was SUPER attached to my planner. The problem was (and I’ll admit it) it wasn’t purse friendly… I looked like a high school student. It also doesn’t help that I still look 17.

The solution: Using hosted exchange through Microsoft; you can synchronize your contacts, and basically anything else, allowing you to access all your important contact information from anywhere, anytime.

Situation 4: Not Enough Desk Space at Starbucks

If you have such a clutter of files and documents that you need for work, then you may want to trim down. I’m sure the strangers are Starbucks won’t appreciate you silently encroaching on the table next to you with your files and folders. Especially if they’re sitting at said table.

The solution:
Google Documents and other online document apps, as mentioned above, provide one awesome solution. Note taking applications and project management solutions for your mobile device can also help make any place your work space and prevent unfriendly strangers from giving you “the eye.”

Situation 5: Your Notebooks Become a Ball and Chain

If you have a set of physical information that you just can’t get rid of, then it’s time to upgrade your approach, and your toys.

The solution: We’ve already mentioned some great online ways to store your docs. Now, combine these storage locations with mobile apps that let you create automatic PDFs from receipts, print outs, contracts, white boards, and business cards, and you have an essentially magical storage system. All your notes, and not a trace of physical evidence. I love it.

There are many other great tools that can be used to save you time, as a freelancer, instead of chicken scratching at the ol’ piece of paper. However, you certainly shouldn’t take this as a message that pen and paper are now useless. Quite the contrary, actually.

Continue to use pen and paper for all your note scrawling, sticky note, and doodling from boredom, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be staring longingly at your to-do list, wishing you could cross an item off… just ONE last time.

What About You?

Is your dependence on pencil and paper slowing you down?

Share your stories in the comments.

Image by Sancho Papa