Continuing my series of stupid simple ways to get things done, I bring you...pen and paper.
The first habit I picked up when I started my forays into GTD was keeping a pen and paper on me at all times. Any thought of significance gets written down. Once it gets written down, I stop thinking about it, freeing up those mental cycles for something bigger and better.
I started out capturing to-dos and reminders; as the mental cruft cleared I found myself with more project and writing ideas. The process is cumulative, and builds on itself. Simple ideas gather depth over time as I consider new perspectives: new features, presentation ideas, a twist in the plot line. And the best part is that all of this happens organically over time, insights arriving of their own accord, so there is no real effort involved other than writing it down as it comes.
Notes, quotes, to dos, and MITs...pocket sized!
Once a week at first, but now once a day, I review my notes and move them to more permanent homes, usually into Things or Evernote. I've developed quite a queue of ideas over the years — now I just need to figure out how to make them all happen! Fortunately, I've gotten some ideas on that, too.
I've tried various form factors of paper and pens, including index cards, Post-It notes, Space pens, and all the gimmicks on 43Folders and Lifehacker. My well-informed opinion is a Moleskine Cahier notebook paired with a Zebra F-301 compact pen is the best combo out there.
The Cahier is the perfect size to slip into a pocket. It comes in blank, ruled, or graphed versions. The back pages are perforated, perfect for sharing a phone number or directions. It lays out flat, and holds up well to weeks of travel.
I like the feel of Zebra pens, smooth and consistent, even in wet or cold weather. The F-301 compact is small enough to fit into a back pocket next to the notebook, but expands to a full size pen at need. And it's metal shell is sturdy enough to handle being sat upon, for those times when you forget what's in your pockets.
I have an iPhone as well, which is great for capturing a quick photo or a snippet of sound, but I still keep my Moleskine with me. Despite my gadget-oriented nature, pen and paper is more often than not faster, easier, and more versatile. Project ideas, blocks of writing, sketches, UML or interaction diagrams — not quick or easy on the iPhone.
An added bonus: when a notebook gets full, I note the date on the last page and toss it into a box in my office. I find they make for great inspiration when I'm feeling stalled, providing a real nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts window into my past: what I was thinking, what I was doing, and what seemed important.
This is one powerful habit to have. I've gone from being the guy who forgets everything to the one everyone counts on to remember. My friends have even picked up the habit themselves and started carrying around Moleskines of their own. Maybe I should get a commission, eh?