Can paper replace OmniFocus?

Can paper replace OmniFocus?


I’ve experimented with paper a few times.

I’ve tried Bullet Journal
A GTD system with 3x5 cards
3x5 cards paired with a field notes notebook
Modified bound notebooks
And the ARC system from Staples, similar to Levenger’s Circa system.

The ARC system is the most practical version as it works a bit like a binder, allowing you to shuffle paper around, pull out completed lists, and change your mind as much as you’d like.

I like paper because it forces simplicity in lists and it imposes discipline in keeping junk off of action lists. There’s a cost to adding tasks, so you’re more careful about how they are written and more critical about what actually goes on the lists.

There’s much less fiddling. Because there’s not a lot to fiddle with.

Do we really need these databases of tasks on our computers at the size that we create them? I don’t know.

But there’s also a cost in friction.

I get anxiety whenever I try to step away from omnifocus. But man, the simplicity and tActike nature of paper sure is alluring.

(Joshua) #42

Yes! I’ve played around with this idea. For a couple reasons. One, being the same as you say,

But also, because working with digital tends to wear me out more, for essentially the same reason you have pointed out

When I think about pulling up omnifocus…I just don’t want to do it. I’d rather just open up my notebook.

(Joe Buhlig) #43

Have a listen to the latest Whims That Work:

In this episode, @drewcoffman and I discuss this experiment.

As for a system, I’m making one up. I don’t care for many of the existing structure people try to use an feel like I’m a renegade anyway. I do really like the bound notebooks but choosing those means I need a clever way to organize my lists, which I haven’t nailed down yet.

There’s also the constant screen-viewing when using a digital task manager. Using paper gives me a break. :wink:


Re: Someday/Maybe:

I remember reading about someone’s paper based system years ago that recorded someday maybe on paper stored in the pocket on the back cover of their Leuccterm1917.

That way it’s with the system, but is out of the way and easy to transfer to a new notebook.

(Joe Buhlig) #45

I considered that. And for a long time. The trouble I have is that mine doesn’t fit. Of course, right?

I keep a LOT of long-term lists and potential project lists. I might have an idea collection addiction. :upside_down_face:

I’m currently considering a group of sheets in a Ulysses group for these. Or I suppose I could keep OmniFocus around for this if I’ll keep this digital, but that seems like overkill for Someday/Maybes.

The main problem for me here is that I have a bunch of these and they get to be lengthy. That may be a factor of having used OmniFocus on these for years. But the main question is whether or not it’s worth copying them over every time I get a new notebook. It would serve as a great curation process but I don’t want to delete a bunch of SMs each time. Even a bad idea can give me good ones.

Regardless, it means I have a lot to write down if I keep it analog. But in this case, they are purely lists and rarely have any supporting thoughts with them. And if they do, it’s easy enough to create a second line for the notes in Ulysses.

(Justin DiRose) #46

I’m becoming less and less of a proponent of massive task databases. If we’re focusing on being effective, why do we need to capture everything?

I’m feeling that right now. I left OF about a month ago for a cobbled-together system of my own, mostly on paper. However, I’m missing some of the detail OF brought in certain areas of my life. I end up feeling like I’m forgetting something, but I really haven’t. I just haven’t been focusing on all the non-important stuff I captured.

You’re getting me considering do this too.

(Mike N) #47

I used to use Workflowy to capture someday maybe lists but moved to Ulysses about a year ago. Now it is used to capture those, quotes, interesting ideas, etc. The share function in iOS works really well and can be enhanced by workflow

Ulysses is brilliant. There are only two real negatives I’ve had with ulysses: lack of an archive and inability to target the search - it really is sheet or all libraries. Those are related items, as you get more and more content in there it can become difficult to pinpoint.

If you use the keywords and filters aggressively, it can help.

My current setup uses Ulysses for all note storage, journaling, writing, outlining etc. I use Cushion for high level project planning / timelines, and paper for committing to the days tasks similar to what wilsonng has noted and general thinking.

(Justin DiRose) #48

I’d be interested to hear more of how you’re using this for notes and journaling. Same for you @joebuhlig.

(Wilson Ng) #49

I left OF for a little while as an experiment and learned to incorporate certain features of OF back into my life.

OF is no longer the nexus of my workflow, it’s more a complementary piece. I can see how people invest so much time in energy into a “miracle” app and then leave disappointed for another app that promises the same thing.

I had to go through the all-in approach with OF to figure out how it fits in my world. The only time I use OF is for capturing, reviewing, and planning my day/week/month.

My handwriting is pure sh*te and indecipherable. I couldn’t handwrite anything to save my life. My doctor would be proud of my chicken scratch writing.

We don’t have to keep everything analog or everything digital. There’s a time and place for digital and another time and place for analog. It’s all a matter of trying to figure out when it is more comfortable to use one or the other. If the tools are there, why not use it? :tipping_hand_man:t2:

(Mike N) #50

A couple of caveats:

  • I’m offline on an iPad Pro / iPhone easily 40% of the time. An iPad Pro is my 75% work device - use a desktop for spreadsheet jockeying and video production.
  • My role at my day job has a requirement to easily be able to pull up old notes regularly - so “why did we make decision X 8 months ago.” I can’t rely on analog due to this requirement


My journal has a top level Journal group and a sub-group for each month.

I then have a page for each day of the month. I use the same page every year, with the currrent year being added to the top of the page. I can then quickly review what happened over the last years on those days. It makes it dead simple to actually look back on things without having to think about it, it just happens.

Sheet example:

# October 11th
## 2017: Wednesday
    Interesting thoughts....

## 2016: Tuesday
     Older thoughts...

I generally do a morning brain dump and then try to write up a summary of what happened that day in the evening. Does’t always happen.

If you keep a digital journal, organizing it so you can see each year together is super effecitve.

Under journal, I also have a group for quotes / thoughts to be stored.

When i used to have a new page for every new day, I would use workflow to create a new sheet with the various items I wanted to include - had sections for gratitude and all of that.


Meeting notes
I often take notes by hand - either on paper or in an app on the iPad Pro - i.e. good notes. Usually at the end of the meeting or my next clear block I’ll type them up and place them in the right spot. I like thinking on paper or dictating and then typing them up. It creates a natural review.

Random notes
It is very easy, particularly on a 3D Touch device to pop open a new sheet defaulted into the inbox or wherever you want to thing to go to, that i triage later. I’ll often drop a tag like @review or @dayjob or whatever in the text that a filter can pull up.

When I triage, the glue and merge sheets options are really useful, particularly if you’re pulling things from multiple libraries and want to move them together. Or if you have ideas you’re still kicking around how they fit together.

Filters can pull individual glued sheets.

Use favorites for often touched lists or sheets.

I have favorites for a couple of things - quick open on ios with 3D Touch is nice with this:

  • books to read
  • healthnotes - rehabbing a spine injury, keep a log
  • A scratch sheet for my current big work and personal projects, easy to get something down on page.
  • Book ideas - day dreams of being an author - quickly throw down related items.
  • Shopping list
  • Key Person lists - i.e. wife, dad, etc - i regularly add things I want to talk to them about.
  • Restaraunts I want to try
  • etc

Other Thoughts on notes:

  • Generally don’t go too deep on groups - I don’t go more than 3 layers, filters are more useful then. Part of this is related to iOS use.
  • Inbox - quick add notes and ideas, and quotes, and random things with a new sheet.
  • Review tag with a review filter - so something i want to come back. Either keywords or filter will pull out of the text, so I’ll often just tag in the text
  • Learn to love:
    • CMD+O -> quick find and the previous file is at the top so you can pop back quickly.
    • Split, glue, and merge sheets
  • Filters - I have a filter that pulls up any sheet that contains 4 question marks (???). I use that as a shorthand that I need to come back to a thought. I also have one that pulls my wife’s name. The in-text filter is more flexible than keyword tagging to me.
  • share extension on ios: will allow you to grab a quote and then will push the url in. Gives you the option to which group to place. Or add text. I’ll often just type in a tag to myself and push it to a filter.
  • Other coolness: The integrations Ulysses has with MindNode, Aeon Timeline, and Deckset can be useful.

(Joe Buhlig) #51

At the same time, I think it’s helpful to capture as much as is feasible. But the trick comes in knowing what to put in a Someday/Maybe and what goes in the as-soon-as-I-can lists. I’m not always the best at triaging these but it’s partially why I’m interested in something digital for the SMs. It allows me to keep them long without the resistance to capturing.

Cushion looks kind of neat. I think it does something similar to what I have here (check the pic on that post for reference):

Since starting this experiment with analog tools, I’ve noticed that the higher horizons get more attention. That might be a factor of new-and-shiny but I wonder if it’s just easier because the tools themselves get out of the way. :thinking:

For notes (Project Support) I have a section in my notebook for it. So it doesn’t land in Ulysses at all. I went back to using my old project codes thing and created a folder on my Mac for reference material. I name the folder with the code and keywords to make it easy to find.

I like it being in the notebook because it travels with me pretty much everywhere. If I have a random idea for a project, I can pull up the notes and add it or I can capture it on a notecard.

For the journal, that’s a separate notebook. I only pull it out at night. Though, I’ve been failing to do that at all lately. :man_facepalming:

I’ve been fascinated by this concept more and more lately. It seems like the digital tools are quite terrible at showing us how we work because they come with expectations on how to use them. Or they come with a requirement of learning how the tool works. Analog has none of that. So you’re free to be creative and develop whatever you like, however you like.

I’m stealing this! :tada: I’ve always struggled with knowing how/when to review my old journals. Great idea! Now, how do I do that on paper?

(Mike N) #52

I would probably buy a journal per month and switch those out over the year. It isn’t as elegant, however picking up the September journal that you haven’t looked at in 11 months would prompt some review. Or you could do a 3 ring binder and add pages as the year goes on - so you would just add a new sheet to October 11th as they fill up.

It is the most valuable change to any of my personal systems that I have ever done. I have a terrible memory, but now I regularly get reminded of what happened and what was important. A large portion of my interactions with friends and family are correlated to the time of year. For example, when I go to the same conference every year I am able to bring up conversations I had with peers and ask where things have gone, etc. Things I may not have recalled and honestly I wouldn’t have gone looking for. Or on my wife’s birthday I can bring up the funny story from 4 years ago when we went out to dinner. I would generally not remember that unprompted.

It makes a positive impact on people i interact with.

(Joe Buhlig) #53

This is a solid suggestion. I was thinking through ways to use a certain number of pages per day of the month. Splitting out a 250+ page journal for 30/1 days of the month would give a number of years before they need replaced. But it’s also pricey to get started. :thinking:

(Wilson Ng) #54

I’ve been using Day One’s “On This Day” feature on my iPad to spark ideas or to remember events.

I can visit the Day One app and recall events that happened on this day. This oftentimes reminds me to call someone I haven’t seen in a long time or remember a forgotten idea that might generate a new project for OmniFocus.