Using Legal Pads for Productivity

Using Legal Pads for Productivity

(Bull Garlington) #1

I’m looking for stories about people using legal pads for productivity. I know about the Walmart guy. Looking for more.

(Jeremy Wells, EA) #2

Who is this? I’ve not heard this story.

(Bull Garlington) #3

The guy who started Walgreens and WalMart etc ran everything using a cheap legal pad. He’d walk around and just write a line per item as it came to him. Scratch it off when he was done. Fred Walton? Maybe?

(Jeremy Wells, EA) #4

Ok, here’s something: 4 Culture-Building Lessons From Sam Walton’s Legal Pad. (By the way, Charles Walgreen started Walgreen’s about 60 years before Sam Walton started Walmart.)

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with legal pads. All through college, I did the cool thing and carried my legal pad around in my nifty black leather Perry Ellis padfolio. I was never a good note taker (I managed to get all As and Bs on recall alone), so I had no system. I would often look at the clean, crisp page and, never wanting to muck it up, struggled to write anything. I also immediately hated the idea of an uneven tear if the perforation didn’t work, and I really hated that gap in the binding between where the first page was and where the current page is (This is a major problem with any paper-based system I’ve attempted and a huge part of my motivation to go paperless.) Yes, I carried that padfolio around for all four years of college, and the first couple years of graduate school too, and I think I still had the same legal pad in it the whole time.

I know that isn’t much of a legal pad productivity story, except to say that I can’t think of any single greater hindrance to my notetaking and writing. Of course, that’s just my personal experience.


My other half - she’s a freelance business change project manager. Always uses A4 size lined pads, writes everything down when she thinks of it, goes through the list daily, never misses a thing. Writes in pencil as well.

(Joe Buhlig) #6

I used to carry a Whitelines notebook with me to all my meetings when I worked in a corporate setting. That worked well for quite a while but one day I ran out of paper in that notebook and ended up using your typical yellow legal pad. And I didn’t take the time to reorder a new Whitelines. The legal pad ended being the paper I used for all my meeting notes and daily task lists.

I didn’t have a super efficient way of tracking things but it worked pretty well for giving me a plan for the day.

(Bull Garlington) #7

That’s a helpful link, Jeremy, and thanks for the correction. Somehow I think Walmart and Walgreens are the same.

(Bull Garlington) #8

Thanks for the tip. I just reached out to that company for their legal pad for review.

(Bull Garlington) #9

At the risk of seeming to self-promote, this is where the story will end up.

(Ed M) #10

No legal pads here (though I used those in grad school). I work in executive consulting and use hard-bound notebooks, such as Moleskine Professional, for all meetings. I have a library of dozens of these going back a decade or more. Why paper notes? Because I can write quickly, I’ve developed a bullet-journal kind of notation that identifies issues and actions, I can quickly draw small illustrations of ideas, and I can draw out links between what one person is saying and other points in the convo. In other words, paper notes gives me a permanent record in text, images, and annotations of what happened in that meeting. If I need a digital copy I use Scanbot to grab images of a page and upload those to Dropbox or DEVONthink.

I head up every page in the book with a page number (MP6-101 means it’s Moleskine book #6, page 101), date, subpage number for the meeting (2 of 7, for example), topic and participants. If a slide deck or are document is handed out, I add “MP6-101 20150204” to top of the handout and a reference to the handout in the notebook, so I can cross-reference the ephemera. This is a very quick process – and slower and harder to do with electronic notebooks.

All this could be accomplished with legal pads, and I did use them early on, but it’s just that using a smaller form-factor makes it easier to carry around the notes in a backpack.

Occasionally I reproduce the paper-note experience using Notability with the Pencil on my iPad Pro. Same great results, but as someone pointed out above it takes more time to set up to take notes electronically than it does to whip out the notebook and pen and get started. My paper notebooks have outlasted generations of iPads and other devices, and never needed an upgrade :slight_smile:

(Joe Buhlig) #11

I find this to be super common. Most of the clients I work with show up with paper notebooks for taking notes.

There’s some solid truth here. A legal pad would do exactly what I want in most cases today, but it’s simply too large to be mobile and I prefer the cleanliness of a bound notebook.

(Mike N) #12

If you can stomach spiral bound, Black n’ Red are surprisingly decent. They have A4 & A5 hard / soft cover versions. All of the Brits I work with use them.

I’ve been keeping my primary notebook and a legal pad for a scratchpad lately. Which is leading me down this rabbit hole:

Hold on to your wallets.

(Ed M) #13

So true. There’s always the better notebook to be had. And then you need the better pen. And then the better pen means the better fountain pen. And that means the better ink. And the ink means better paper. Back to the better notebook.

I should be a major shareholder in JetPens soon :wink:

(Joe Buhlig) #14

Ah! This is dead on. :money_with_wings:

(Luke) #15

I use my phone, loaded with productivity apps for productivity.

I use legal pads for brainstorming, and what John Cleese (from Monty Python) calls “open mode”-- creativity.

In my opinion, you should use the best tool for the job. Paper only has an advantage when it comes to creative process. Paper will never remind you with a notification.

Digital for productivity and work. Paper for creativity and thought.

(Mike N) #16

One could argue that if you need a reminder, then you aren’t in control of your work / life.

(Joe Buhlig) #17

This is a really interesting statement to me. I think I’ve been slowly working my way towards this unknowingly. My bout with an analog task manager taught me a LOT about myself, but there were simply too many constraints to work with given the fast-paced nature of my ProCourse business.

But at the same time, I’ve found paper (and my whiteboard) indispensable for answering questions of myself.

(Justin DiRose) #18

I’ve been doing similar things though I love the flexibility of digital tools for planning and brainstorming (mind mapping and using the Apple Pencil in particular).

However it’s true that if I just need to clear my head or get super creative (I.e. writing a song), paper is usually best.

Something I’m exploring right now is using paper to keep a high level perspective on my life (goals, weekly focuses, etc). The idea is to use a Bullet Journal inspired format for the year, month, and week levels. More to come on this one.

(Ed M) #19

True. And electronic reminders quickly get tuned out. The only reminder I consistently pay attention to is “you have a meeting in 15 minutes”.

Best attention getter for me is to put a paper reminder in a place I won’t miss – as simple as a Post It on my laptop screen.

(Mike N) #20

I would bet a sizable chunk of money that the snooze / delay task function is in the top 2 or 3 most used features of any task manager that has a reminder function.

Even with the analog system I’m using, where I regularly scan through my list, I’m effectively doing the same thing as I look at tasks and decide that I’ll do them tomorrow, for weeks on end.