Do you get easily distracted?
I certainly do.
I‘m always googling random things and taking notes every time I have an idea. Which is often.
However, as a startup founder, it’s important for me to maximize the time I spend focusing on important tasks.
Writing articles, working on our website, and creating product pitches all require uninterrupted deep work. Context switching does not help productivity.
My challenge has been to tame my ‘monkey mind’.
Paper Notes Hack
This is when I stumbled upon this super simple tactic: the Paper Notes Tactic.
I’ve personally found it useful for getting stuff done. The idea is, you confine your note taking to a piece of A4 size paper.
Each morning, I write down my goals for the day in the top corner of a single piece of paper. Ideally limited to 3 or 4 main things I want to achieve.
If, during the day, I think of something I want to research, or a good idea, I immediately write this down on the same sheet of paper, instead of my notes app or opening up Google. This forces me to not go off on too many random tangents.
Once written on paper, I can rest easy knowing the idea isn’t forgotten and get back to work. I don’t look at the list again until the end of the day, when I look through the notes from earlier to assess if they need further action.
A shockingly large amount, probably 70%, of the written notes, tend to be just procrastination or not actually important. If the items do require action or research, I’ll schedule them in for later on, or send a few quick emails out.
Here’s an example of my sheet evolving throughout the day. Forgive the handwriting.
I’ve also made a note to limit my email to 12 and 5 o’clock and not go on my iPhone.
Having everything written on paper allows my applications (Pages, Excel, etc) to be full screen, allowing for greater focus on the task at hand.
Not an online tool
I have nothing against app-based task managers. They are great.
You could even argues that they make note taking too easy.
I have used Simplenote for notes, to-do lists, ideas, everything. I created around 40 different ‘notes’ pages, each with tens or even hundreds of points using this inline tool.
However, while it was great for referencing, it is completely unmanageable on a day-to-day basis.
Confining notes to paper forces you to consider if the notes are actually important.
Effective work needs to come from a place of simplicity and singular focus.
Of course, this tactic is only one part of a large struggle to stay focused during work.
Turning your smartphone and internet off, listening to lyric-less music, and going full screen also help with writing and creative tasks.
This isn’t a perfect system. But an imperfect system that is followed is preferable over a perfect system that is never used.
If you’re already a master of efficiency and relentless productivity, I salute you.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to improve, like I am, then try the Paper Notes tactic.
You may find the results worth noting.