The Virtue of Using Analog Tools for Business

Analog Tools for Business

You’re reading this article on a smartphone, tablet, or computer; and, I wrote it on a computer, and then edited it on my iPad. These digital tools are the mainstays of our modern world, and they streamline many of our tasks, making it possible to create and distribute content quickly and easily.

But there’s another way to work, one that is gaining in popularity: using analog tools for business. More and more people are using pens and pencils, pads and notebooks to create; they’re using sticky notes to jot down ideas; they’re using film cameras, watches with moving hands, and they’re reading print books.

While we’ve gotten used to the digital way of working, analog puts us in a different mindset, one that’s slower, more reflective, and that frees us from the tyranny of screens. Here’s why you should use analog tools (at least occasionally).

What are analog tools?

What are analog tools

Strictly speaking, these are tools that don’t use electricity. They don’t require user manuals, and are easy to use. They require a different kind of maintenance – you need to sharpen your pencils, refill your pens, and buy more notebooks – but you don’t need to charge them or worry about them crashing.

Think of the mental burden of maintaining all your digital tools. You need to charge your smartphone and upgrade apps on your computer. Then something goes wrong and you need to contact your IT department or a manufacturer’s tech support. With a pencil and paper, the worst that can happen is that you break the point of the pencil or run out of pages, both of which can be remedied without reading a manual.

How analog tools make you slow down

analog tools productivity

One of the main reasons to use analog tools – and here I’m focusing on writing tools, but this can also apply to, say, shooting photos with film – is that they make you slow down. I can touch type about 85 words per minute; that’s not quite as fast as I think, but it’s pretty close. When I write by hand, my output is less than half that.

And that’s a good thing. Because when I write by hand I do so in order to allow my mind to work differently. I edit myself more carefully, trying to write more polished texts rather than knowing I can go back and cut, paste, and delete what I’ve typed on screen. I think my thoughts before committing them to paper, rather than tossing a rougher draft of my ideas into a text editor.

The process itself is slower and more tactile. You can choose pens and pencils with different amounts of resistance. A rollerball glides like a speed skater, allowing you to write quickly, even breathlessly, whereas a thick pencil stumbles along more like a tired dog on a leash, making the process a bit slower. You can have smooth or rough paper, and you can use a fountain pen, which requires care to ensure that you don’t get the ink everywhere. (And so what if you do?)

Analog tools help you focus

Analog tools help you focus

When you’re working more slowly, you’re able to focus more, and you can be more creative. Allowing yourself the time to think, to sketch and draft, to create unfinished works, means that you can free yourself from the tyranny of perfection for your first draft. If you convert your work to digital form, you’ll edit as you do so, providing another step that enhances creativity.

The focus on tactile items and the physical movement of a pencil on paper make your brain work differently. Studies have shown that taking notes with analog tools helps you remember more, in part because of your focus. You can play, doodle, cross things out but later come back to them, unlike when you delete a sentence in a word processor. And if you jot down a bunch of ideas on sticky notes, you can move them around in real space, paying close attention to their relationships, rather than dragging lines in an outlining app.

Analog tools eliminate distraction

Analog tools eliminate distraction

Your digital tools generally have multiple windows or notifications that may distract you. You lose your train of thought, and forget what you were planning to write.

Analog tools let you turn off distractions. Yes, you’ll still hear your phone ring or buzz, but you can put it in do not disturb mode if you really want to focus. You won’t see other windows like on your laptop, and you won’t be tempted to switch to another app when you’ve paused. This lack of distraction helps you give yourself entirely to your work.

Where to begin

get started analog tools

Start by getting a pen or pencil and a notebook. Moleskines are hip, and some prefer Leuchtturm notebooks, but anything will do. Take some notes. Write down what you need to do today, jot down ideas as they come up, and take handwritten notes in meetings. Get used to the process of writing notes by hand.

If you find this process valuable, you can graduate to more extensive tools. I keep a yellow legal pad on my desk to write down notes during the day, and to outline articles before writing. And I have a notebook with all the tasks I need to accomplish each day on one page. I also add to each day’s page little bits of data I may need for later in the week, such as phone numbers, prices, etc.. I have a large collection of pens and pencils and generally use a pencil on the legal pad and a pen with the notebook. (I have a thing for pencils.)

You can get a pocket notebook to take with you when you’re not in the office. Get a small “reporter’s” notebook, such as from Moleskine), or some Field Notes notebooks that you can fit in a pocket. Keep a pen or two handy, and use them to note ideas or even to doodle when you have some downtime, rather than checking your social media accounts on your phone. Then start writing longer texts, when you have the time.

Over time, you may find that you can integrate this analog process with the digital one that is essential for extending and sharing your work. When you do so, you may realize how much more you’ve been able to accomplish by leveraging these analog tools, and how they have helped you become more creative.

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