Digitization has made our lives easier
I consider myself very digitally savvy. I book restaurants on OpenTable and hail cabs with Uber. I stream Netflix to my TV and my music to my Google Home. The moment I get in the car, my destination is up in Waze, and frankly, I don’t know anyone’s phone numbers since they’re all saved on my smartphone.
But there’s one area I’ve struggled to digitize…my daily to-do list
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I HAVE tried. Outlook, Google Tasks, Apple Reminders, and Notes. I’ve used Evernote, Asana, and Wrike. I’ve tried ToodleDo, Trello, AnyDo, Wunderlist, Things…the list goes on.
Over and over, I’d capture all my open loops and end up with incredible digital compendiums of everything I needed to do: project lists, next actions lists, errand and shopping lists, someday/maybe lists, and “whatever else” lists that did a great job of emptying my mind of clutter.
I set up software, apps, and devices to make it as easy as possible to maintain this state of zen-like balance, and told myself, “This is it – from now on, my life is 100% organized, and 100% digitized!”
Then, once I shifted from “setup mode” to “real-life mode”, it fell down at the action level.
While my ideas, my plans, my reference material, and even much of my day-to-day activity could easily live digitally, I live in the real, physical, flesh-and-blood world.
At any given moment, what has my attention is what I see, touch, and physically interact with. I have to keep the most important tasks as visible as possible otherwise, whatever is easiest and most urgent in that moment stands a much better chance of getting my attention than those important tasks that are buried behind a password and 3 taps of a smartphone.
For me, pen and paper is still the killer app
For these reasons, I’ve always defaulted back to pen and paper to manage my day. Scraps of paper with check-boxed lists, Post-It® Notes with scribbled reminders. Big, hand-sketched asterisks next to important items in my Moleskine notebook. These old-school, analog tools still seem to win the day, but they too aren’t without their downsides.
My pen and paper tools seemed to fall into two broad buckets.
1. Loose paper
Blank pages folded in 2 (or 4, or more), scrap paper, and Post-It Notes are quick, frictionless, and super portable. I can rapidly scrawl a new “to-do”, or check off a freshly completed one in seconds. Then I can shove it in my pocket, and pull it back out just as fast.
Unfortunately, by noon, my page looks like it’s been through the wringer and the ink is starting to run (if I’m lucky, my list hasn’t been duplicated on the inside of my pants pocket!)
And, before long, I have a rag-tag collection of random sheets of paper and to-do lists strewn about my home, office, car, and who knows where else.
2. Bound books
Notebooks, planners, and the like are in the second bucket.
They’re great, in that they’re durable and can be archived (stored) when they’re full.
For the most part, they’re portable, though there are many times I’d like to have access to my list and some brief notes without the nuisance of having to carry a whole book around (restaurants, stores, the gym, to name but a few).
The big problem with notebooks though is that I really use them for…well…notes, so I routinely have to flip back through the pages to find my list (or my most recent list) hiding amongst a bunch of unrelated musings.
So what to do?
Eventually, I tired of these trade-offs and decided to take things into my own hands. Literally.
I set out to design a system that would take the best of what was working for me while trying to fix what wasn’t.
Here’s what I needed it to be and do.
This would be “pen-and-paper-based” so that using it would be easy, quick, and frictionless. No passwords, no app launches, no clicks, no taps.
Simple and focused
I didn’t need a total planning system. Nor a project management system. Software is great for those. I didn’t need to frame my activities in terms of long-term goals. I just needed to keep focused on today.
It seems simple, but I didn’t want to have to remember to carry a pen, or to worry about sitting on and breaking my pen, getting ink all over my back-side. Just like how I would clip a pen onto my folded, loose-sheet pages, I wanted to be able to keep a high-quality, comfortable pen safely secured with my list, without adding unnecessary bulk.
It had to be portable—no bigger than my mobile phone—but large enough that writing wasn’t awkward. I wanted it to fit easily and inconspicuously in the pocket of my jeans or jacket, and be durable enough to keep its shape and protect its contents. To be most useful, I needed to be able (and willing) to carry it with me everywhere, anywhere, all the time.
Finally, styling was important. I wanted it to have clean lines—simple, classic and functional. I didn’t want it to be flashy, but I did want it built of quality material.
Visually, I wanted something I would be proud to pull out in any setting.
The result of many design iterations
It’s been through lots of variations, but I’m so happy to share what I’ve come to call KenzaPad.
I hope you find KenzaPad as useful as I do, and get as much joy from using it as I did from creating it.
Please try it and share back your stories of how you’re using it, what you’ve found most useful, and your suggestions for making it even better.