A History Of Productivity Planning
The history of paper-based planning is actually much older than most people realize. Archaeologists believed for many years that neolithic cave paintings were the oldest examples of non-movable art in the world, primitive renderings of the daily lives and surroundings of the world's earliest artists, beings who, though barely able to scratch out an existence against the harsh backdrop of nature, nevertheless felt the timeless artistic drive to create, to immortalize, to bring their fantasy and vision into being for others to share. That's what everybody thought. In reality, it turns out that it was only Neanderthal man leaving himself a reminder: 'Note to self: Kill buffalo.'
So we can see that paper-based planning predates even paper and it continued to evolve throughout history. The next major milestone in the history of paper planning was Moses' carving of the Ten Commandments on two tablets on Mount Sinai. Moses was keenly aware of a fact that has only recently been rediscovered, that the medium of communication with underlings matters a great deal: If you write something on paper, people take it more seriously than if you send them an email or super-glue your PDA to their cubicle. No one before or since has equaled Moses' managerial acumen. Essentially, Moses came down from the mountain-top with thunder and lightning all around him, carrying two huge stone tablets engraved with vital information and said in a booming voice: "People of Israel! I would like to hold a general meeting! I have some urgent new business from the Lord that I would like to present." When the meeting went off track and was not successfully concluded, Moses became angry and smashed the tablets to pieces, which just shows the importance of data backup.
The ancient Egyptians used to write things on papyrus scrolls, but discovered that scrolls degraded and were stolen, so they started painting their stories on the walls of huge temples and pyramids, which proved to be a much more reliable data storage medium, because, well, it's a lot harder to steal a pyramid, ain't it?
The iron age Celtic tribes in Ireland developed a system for recording information, an alphabet they called Ogham. Ogham consisted of a series of slashes which they would cut into the edges of large stones and markers. The result of this mind-numbing, back-breaking labor was an utterly indecipherable language which essentially conveyed the information: "Hey, there are some big-ass stones here, in Ireland." This sort of thing can be very frustrating. This is part of the reason they have such good beer in Ireland.
But for sheer paper-based planning gusto, for raw communicative chutzpa, nobody can hold a candle to Martin Luther. This German cleric set off the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of a church. You don't get that kind of a effect with a middle management memo. Of course Luther had to deal with the profound anger of the Catholic church and the ensuing trial, but that's the kind of envious reaction you have to deal with sometimes when you're truly efficient.
Paper-based planning has taken a long time to evolve into the intricate system it is today, but that system has not yet been embraced by all. Part of what I want to do in my column is to help make paper-based planning relevant for the ordinary person, to help make it a tool that the average Joe can use in their daily lives, not just as the tool of the high-end uber-geek. I'm not sure how to put this gently, but when most ordinary people look at a site like this, one dedicated to paper-based organization, with columns and comments about ways to organize every aspect of your life, to hyper-focus your energy, to categorize and sub-categorize all work and personal-related input and to become incredibly efficient productivity machines, their usual reaction is: 'God have mercy! Were you people toilet-trained at gunpoint?!'
Yes, most people don't see the value of paper-based planning in their lives, but I aim to change that, to show its value in all aspects of a person's life, not just in work. For example, it can help tremendously with creativity. Although I believe in paper-based planning for some applications, I'm not what you'd want to call especially organized. Usually, I'm pretty happy if I make it out the door with matching shoes on, but I have found paper-based planning to be extremely helpful with artistic projects. My Da's a psychotherapist and he explained how sometimes people can experience the phenomenon where a snippet of inspiration, sometimes large, sometimes small, can bubble up out of the unconscious mind and when that happens, if you catch that moment on paper, it can lead to a whole inspirational episode, where you are connected to the profound spiritual metaphors of the collective unconscious and you produce work that feels like it came from something far greater than yourself, that is connected in a fundamental way to the basic archetypal myths of all the human race. I have found this to be true and so I always keep a writing pad with me and one by my bed, in case I wake up with an inspiration.
A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with one such inspiration, scribbled down two lines and went back to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I checked to see what I had written, what profound creative insights had bubbled up from my unconscious brain. The first line on the page read 'Please molest my bus.' I thought: "'Please molest my bus'? What the hell does that mean?" So I looked at the next line. It read: 'You know what I mean.'
This is the kind of helpful advice I'll be bringing every week to diyplanner.com, hoping to make it indispensable in everyone's lives. Until next week, keep your pen on the paper.