11 February 2005


Douglas Johnston has written a wonderful reflection on the (somehow anachronistic) comeback of paper-based systems in the realm of personal productivity. I couldn’t agree more, but I keep wondering why is it so appealing to so many (geekish) people now? Obviously many have always been using some sort of analog system anyway, many have been switching back and forth, but currently the usage of paper seems to have gained some sort of sublime quality it didn’t – and somehow couldn’t – have before.

The best explanation I came up with is the simplicity of paper (with a certain longing for simplicity being a quite recent theme) combined with the intrinsic hackability of paper. O’Reilly kicked of/popularized hacking basically everything in its ongoing series, and paper is a extremely rewarding medium to hack (the time to market when you hack it is minimal, you come up with an idea and just implement it; the switching costs between hacks usually are negligible;...)

Merlin Mann’s Hipster PDA can be seen as a reference implementation containing the fundamental building blocks of a paper based productivity system, and a lot of people jumped in and did their own interpretations (DIY Planner, Hipster Mini, PAD …). Some of these techniques can be observed as they evolve as photostreams on flickr (e.g. see jazzmasterson’s Getting Things Done with Index Cards – the first series on GTD on flickr, or photos tagged with gtd or hipsterpda).