Entrepreneurship Personal Growth

3 ways to use the legal pad to crush it in business and in life

September 30, 2013

I love legal pads. Yes, the bulky, yellow pads of paper which, in the age of smartphones and tablets, seem pretty unsexy and old fashioned. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology too. But technology is only a tool, and it is not the best tool for everything.

There are still things for which plain old pen and paper are best. Here are three of them which will help you crush it in business and in life.

1. Making decisions – Draw a line down the center of the paper and make a pros and cons list. The point of this isn’t to see which list is longer and then go with that option, it’s a way to process your thoughts and objectively look at the situation.

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s like Isaac Asimov said, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” (Agree? Tweet that.) I’ve used this method on many occasions, especially with the bigger decisions like whether or not to quit my job and start a business.

2. Daily goals – At the beginning of the day, think through and make a list of the things you’d like to accomplish. Order them by putting the most important ones at the top and start with those. And rather than making it a bulleted or numbered list, draw little boxes in front of each goal and check them off as you finish them.

Sure, there are plenty of apps that will help you do this, but we access a different part of our brains when we’re using pen and paper. For me, I think clearer and less narrow-mindedly without electronic devices.  This really helps me plan my day.

3. Taking notes – Whether you’re in a business meeting, at a conference, or just meeting a colleague, use pen and paper to take notes rather than something electronic. The absence of a digital device will help you be more present and engaged, plus it shows more respect to the person talking.

I’ve used both my laptop and a legal pad at conferences and I can tell you I felt more present, engaged, and less distracted when I was using my legal pad compared to my laptop. Some experts even explain how there’s a correlation between the success of a company and whether or not they allow personal computers in meetings.

So there you have it. Three ways the legal pad can help you crush it in business and in life.

Watch the video below hear a discussion I led titled Leadership and the Legal Pad hosted by Alex Barker of The Leadership Dojo.

What are your thoughts? Do you ever use the old fashioned legal pad?

Photo Credit: joshduffyphoto via Compfight cc

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  • Reply Cindy Hirch September 30, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Hi Michael – I’m with you on the pad and paper. As much as I also love technology, I’m very distracted when attempting to use it in a conference or during a church service…yes church. Our pastor told us about a bible app that we could use during the service for scripture reference if we didn’t want to bring our bible. Looking back, I can honestly tell you I didn’t remember much of the message…I was too busy trying to find the information. I also tried keeping a electronic journal instead of a paper one and it didn’t have the same feeling as when writing in an actual book…the connection was lost. There is something about the actual written word on a legal pad, or piece of paper that seems to work better for me personally.

    • Reply Michael Good September 30, 2013 at 10:32 am

      I hear you, Cindy. For me, it’s just not the same. There are things I love my iphone for, for other things it just seems to get in the way. Thanks for your input.

  • Reply Ann Musico September 30, 2013 at 7:49 am

    I am definitely a “writer” of thoughts and while I love using the computer – I have notepads and books all over for different things. Because I used to use them when I was a “secretary” I love steno pads as they already have the line down the middle and I use them to list my business and personal tasks each week. Legal pads are definitely right up there too – I love the spiral bound ones so I can easily use both sides of the paper and I do!! My son wrote a great blog post recently about just this thing – I hope you don’t mind if I shamelessly share the link here because it fits beautifully with your post and I thought it was great: http://christophermusico.com/2013/09/26/smartphones-anathema-at-the-21st-century-dinner-table/

    • Reply Michael Good September 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Love Christopher’s blog post, Ann! Thanks for sharing. Couldn’t agree more. Steno pads, haven’t used them but could see how they’s be great for lists. Thanks for reading and your input!

  • Reply Tom Dixon September 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I haven’t found an app that works as well as a legal pad for to-dos…and I’ve tried them all!

    • Reply Michael Good September 30, 2013 at 10:36 am

      I like my to-do’s on a legal pad too, Tom. Even though it’s not as efficient (writing takes longer and sometimes I have to transfer things over to a new list), I find myself being for effective when I do it this way.

  • Reply Dave Helmuth September 30, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Hey Michael,

    Really good suggestion to use the non-techno approach. It’s amazing how that changes my engagement to something!

    I’m also excited that a little alarm went off inside me when I read your first point. I just finished reading through Chip and Dan Heath’s book Decisive (http://heathbrothers.com/books/decisive/) where they give tremendously helpful tools to make better decisions. An alarm should go off anytime you’re choosing between only two options, so not surprisingly one of their key points is to “Widen your options.” I know that decision making wasn’t the thrust of your post, but I was just excited that my internal alarm worked!

    In the book, they share tons of helpful tools, questions, and perspectives. There are complexities involved and questions will help us look at the decision from multiple angles while avoiding the common pitfalls of decision-making:

    1. Narrow framing (unduly limiting the options we consider)

    2. Our confirmation bias (seeking out information that bolsters our beliefs)

    3. Short-term emotion (being swayed by emotions that will fade)

    4. Overconfidence (having too much faith in our predictions)

    In order to avoid them, let’s look at a number of questions that will help us widen our options, reality-test our assumptions, attain distance before deciding, and prepare us to be wrong.

    As you can tell, I loved this book! In fact, I’m currently helping a church hire a new staff member and it’s been so helpful!

    • Reply Michael Good September 30, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Hey Dave,

      I’ve read about half of “Decisive” and found it fascinating and very helpful. I really love where they talked about steering clear or the “either or” decisions in narrow framing.

      It was fascinating where they point out the shortcomings of the famous Ben Franklin’s pros and cons list. Like it mention in the post, I don’t write out the list to see which option is stronger, rather to help me think and process. Besides, a pros and cons list probably isn’t the place to start because you’re just looking at two options. Better to write out a list of 20 options first.

      And that’s great that you’re using what you learned with a church! Very cool.

      • Reply Dave Helmuth October 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

        Ha! Of course you weren’t advocating for that 🙂

  • Reply Alex Barker October 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing Michael! I was honored to have you with us. You only solidified my habits for getting things done!
    Another quick tip I use is to write next to each item on my agenda how much time I will spend on that particular task. That way, I push myself to get it done faster, and I don’t waste time.

    • Reply Michael Good October 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Let’s a clever idea, Alex. Going to give it a try. And it was my pleasure to be part of the webinar!

  • Reply Greg Graham June 4, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Hi Michael;
    I’ve been interested in getting more of life both personally and in my career ever since I got out of college, and watched your podcast because I’m always looking for new ideas. Over the years I have tried varous paper organizsers, PDAs, smartphones, PC software, and various apps including Evernote. I keep coming back to a Filofax (for calendar, to-do lists, expenses tracking, business cards, tickets, etc.) and a legal pad for everything else (notes, mind mapping, project planning, meeting planning, budgeting, you name it). Add a smartphone for communications and it is a powerhouse combination that pretty easy to carry around in even the smallest of briefcases or messenger bags. For me, the bottom line is that paper works best for freewheeling thinking, because you don’t have any limitations imposed by a device or a piece of software. Electronic devices are great for their high-capacity storage and ability to go on the Internet. Your podcast reinforced this, although one point that is important is that you need to use tools that you like — otherwise, you won’t use them and, as a result, won’t be productive. Thanks for an interesting podcast.

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