Redeeming Productivity

In Praise of Paper Productivity Tools

Published 4 months ago • 5 min read

Issue #154

Your weekly roundup of insights and resources to help you get more done for the glory of God.

Read on the Web

In Today’s Issue:

  • Paper vs. Digital Productivity Tools
  • The Perils and Promise of Artificial Intelligence
  • A Short History of the Daily Planner
  • The Mindset of Doing High-Quality Work
  • Reagan's Every Day Carry Items

Dear steward,

Which is better for productivity, a paper planner or a digital app?

Should you use a fancy to-do list app or a Moleskine planner?

It's a question that comes up all the time in the Redeeming Productivity Community.

Personally, I've always found myself using a combination of digital and paper tools (currently, that looks like Notion and a couple of paper planners).

So, I thought I'd share my philosophy about when it's best to use digital vs. paper tools for productivity. Because I don’t think it is a question of either/or, but rather which/when. Whether paper or pixels, these are merely tools. And you want to choose the best tool for the job.

First, let's consider the advantages of digital tools.

  • Easy Accessibility - we always have our phones
  • Easy Searchability - I don't have to thumb through reams of paper to find the thing I am looking for
  • Reliable Reminders - my paper calendar doesn't buzz 10 minutes before that appointment

These are wonderful blessings. And I enjoy taking full advantage of them. But just because digital tools are superior to paper in some ways does not mean it is superior in all ways.

And the big drawback of digital tools is that they are distracting. Just the act of using a device means opening yourself up to interruption or diversion. This is where paper comes in.

Paper can still do things that digital tools can't hold a candle to. Namely, paper is excellent for processing. And this brings us to the vital principle of how I think about when to use paper vs. digital tools.

The Key Principle: Digital Is for Storing, Paper Is for Processing.

This might sound counter-intuitive at first since computers are made to, well, compute. They literally have a component called a processor. But I'm talking about how we process our thoughts.

I have found that in terms of productivity, paper tools provide the best value in thinking through things like decisions, tentative plans, or first drafts. Whether it's mind-mapping, writing the first draft of an article, or just journaling, I think these things are all better done on paper—even if it's slower, even if it means you're going to type it up on the computer afterward.

The value is in the process.

Thus, most of the advantages of paper are in what it doesn't do.

Paper Is Disposable

I like using paper to plan or think through things precisely because it’s a poor mechanism for storing data. The transient nature of paper actually helps my paralysis of analysis. Knowing that whatever I jot down, I’m not committing to some eternal digital archive gives me the freedom to think with fewer boundaries.

Paper Slows Your Down

I once heard John MacArthur say the reason he used a fountain pen to write out his sermons was not that it was faster but precisely because it made him slow down. Every time I try to put a concept into words in my notebook, I feel that benefit too. Clacking on the keyboard enables me to write faster but not more thoughtfully.

Paper Eliminates Distractions

Research has shown that even knowing that your phone or computer might interrupt you with a notification causes people to be less concentrated—not exactly ideal conditions for unraveling a complex problem. But paper notebooks don't come equipped with WiFi (they’ll figure it out soon, I’m sure). Paper isolates you from those distractions and thus helps you to process your thoughts better than you can with digital tools.

What do you think? How do you decide when to use paper vs. digital tools?

This was adapted from an old blog post of mine titled Paper vs. Digital Productivity Tools.

Now, let's get into this week's link Roundup!


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The best links I found this week

The Perils and Promise of Artificial Intelligence (97 mins)

The Colson Center / Peta Marra, Abdu Murray, Brian Johnson

With the sudden rise in AI, Christians are rightly asking many questions.

  • Should we be using it?
  • How close are we to human-level AI?
  • Is AI morally neutral or even amoral?
  • How do we discern healthy from dangerous AI work?
  • Are all AI systems the same?

That's why I appreciated this long-form conversation about AI with two believers who know what they're talking about.

In this video, Abdu Murray (apologist and social commentator) and Brian Johnson (cybersecurity and emerging tech expert) discuss the theological implications of AI, if and how Christians should engage with it, and lay out some helpful points to assist believers in their discernment regarding AI.

I found it very helpful, and I think you will too.

A Short History of the Daily Planner (3 mins)

Jillian Hess / Noted

This is a fascinating look at the origins of the daily planner and how it’s been used throughout time.

Today we tend to think of daily planners as records of what will happen. But most of its early users saw daily blank space in their notebooks as a way to record what had happened. It was a way to account for one’s time and how it was spent (as George Washington noted).

The Mindset of Doing High Quality Work (12 mins)

Scott Wadsworth / The Essential Craftsman

I’ve watched this video three times.

Even though this video is specifically about craftsmanship in construction, the principles Scott lays out are transferrable to any kind of work. And I think it's especially relevant to Christians who view their work as something they do "as unto the Lord" (Col 3:23).

Craftsmanship means doing your work excellently, obsessing over quality, and caring about the details. It's an integrity thing. We should prioritize excellence in our work even if no one else sees it but God.


On Redeeming Productivity

My Every Day Carry 2024 | Green & Black (6 mins)

I decided to have a little fun this week and make a video about the tools and gear I carry around with me each day.


Redeeming Productivity Coaching

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If you want to get more focused, accomplish your goals, and better steward your time for the glory of God, consider 1-on-1 coaching with a Redeeming Productivity Coach.



Quote of the Week

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.

Psalm 143:5


Thanks for reading!

That's all for this week. If you want to chat about anything in this newsletter or want to say hi, you can just hit reply.

Until next week!

Reagan Rose

Reagan Rose

I talk about personal productivity from a Christian perspective. Creator of ​Redeeming Productivity​.

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