As I slowly move increasingly to using paper over digital tools, I can’t help but wonder exactly what makes the act more satisfying. There are various options in our digital tools that can mimic what paper offers. Writing down our thoughts, brainstorming ideas, and mind-mapping are a few examples of activities for which we have software tools available. Yet, I find myself turning to using my hands with older tools.

Pen and paper, or a whiteboard, seem to enable a greater connection to my thoughts. These tools are free from distraction, which helps. But more than that, the physical activity somehow helps me to gain a better sense of clarity and a feeling of “clearing the decks”.

On a recent episode of Jocelyn K Glei’s Hurry Slowly, she and Austin Kleon discuss this very topic at some length. They touch on a few points, but what stuck the most for me was the concept of analog tools are for thinking and planning, where our digital tools are for implementing those plans.

While I was listening to this episode, Craig Mod’s Drawing the Calendar came to mind. In it, Craig outlines his habit of drawing out a monthly calendar on paper. Rather than using a digital calendar, or even a paper calendar, he sketches out his own version on blank paper. Why do this?

Craig describes it better than I can (as usual):

the act of drawing itself becomes a meditation, and slowing down to feel the shape of days and weeks to come carries an inherent value not found in the already-made.

I concur. This is exactly why I prefer a blank grid in a notebook rather than a template of someone else’s choosing. He continues:

The most satisfying part of the drawn calendar is the more you use it, the more you fill it in, the more beautiful it becomes.


But most of all, the making of the drawn calendar becomes an act of reflection in and of itself.

This well captures what I’ve been finding for myself. I still keep a digital calendar. I still track projects and tasks in Things 3. But increasingly, I turn to paper for many things. Journalling my thoughts through the day, tracking the habits I want to adopt with regularity, writing down each day’s 3 core tasks, brainstorming larger projects … these things are more joyful when I use my hands and a pen and paper.

I can’t state exactly why this is so. And it may not be the same for everyone (it’s likely not). But the current resurgence with non-digital tools does not appear to be going away. I think we’re just getting started.