Letting Go of Pen and Paper How I’m Learning To Cope Electronically

August 20, 2015

I had been working on an entry revisiting Apple’s 1997 commercial “Think Different,” and its 2014 commercial, “Perspective.” I had a blog entry from that contemplated certain aspects of Think Different, and the messages behind the commercial.

I took it one step further wrestling with how we inspire each other and the world in that old entry and thus wanted to revisit my thinking again. Perspective is Apple’s revisiting of that same concept and inspiration in 2014.   While I may eventually come back to this essay and contemplation, it stalled out in my thinking and writing.

I am learning to come to grips with the idea that sometimes ideas, and thus writings stall out. Allowing that to happen used to invoke feelings of failure, a sense of being a fraud somehow as a writer and academic, and large doses of insecurity. Even in this case arguable—with the stalled Think Different entry—I allowed old patterns to begin to set.

But no longer will I engage in that behavior or thinking; or at least I’ll try my best not to go down that path so willingly. Because the one simple fact and truth is that there is always more writing to do, more thinking to accomplish, and another project that needs my attention.   Rather than force the issue, or stall out and not produce anything, I am learning to back burner it, and move onto something else.

Finding Balance in Life

Trying to find the balance between work and life has always been hard for me.I have often been too much of a perfectionist, and thus allowed myself to stall out on projects out of fear, anxiety, or insecurity. I am learning the key to dealing with this is to simply save the file, and move onto the next item. Secretly, I love my to-do lists, and that satisfaction of checking an item off. One of the lists I use in Apple’s apps is very simple.

You write an item in, and then click it when the project is completed. But, the fascinating part to me is its ability to track all those items that are completed.

While in the Apple Reminder app it shows me that I’ve completed seventeen hundred tasks, I also use it as a reminder for my calendar too. I used to waste hours having to reconstruct a year’s past academic accomplishments for discretionary salary increases/awards, and applications for various academic adventures I sought out—and simply put, that’s exhausting.

Some of the items completed are benign and of little merit, but others are major projects—both counted equally for me. Why, you’re probably asking?

Well, sometimes that list and my idealized goals are overwhelming and thus paralyzing. But check off an easy to do item, and that small whisper of euphoria/completion calls my name and salves my soul. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves to take a break, take a step back, and look at both the past and the future.

We have always done more than we think we have, and we will always have more work to do going forward—so take pleasure in the small steps and enjoy that one moment of satisfaction—then move on to the next item or project.

Another part of my work overload, and making it more difficult on myself is a long entrenched pattern of procrastination and disorganization. I spent far too many years backing up in pen and paper my entire to-do list, a calendar, and writing projects by hand that I also attempted to keep electronically. I was always fearful technology would fail me—and it did sometimes. But then I began to think about how much time and energy that wasted. So I stopped, period.

An Experiment with Electronic Notebooks Going Forward

I have been experimenting with different software programs that ought to allow me to be a bit more organized. Earlier this summer, I realized I was allowing that pattern of pen and paper record keeping to creep into the electronic organization of my life—but now solely in the digital world.

So, I began experimenting with Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote. While working with both, along with Apple’s Notes work—I realized I was entering the data in three locations, rather than just one—thus the old pattern of over-redundancy that was zapping energy and time leading to feelings of frustration.

So I began to use each with a different focus and orientation to meet the various aspects of professional and personal life. Apple’s Notes is primarily for jotting down a quick thought about a writing project or research project I want to get off the ground. But, I’ve also used it for a fairly detailed outline of a public paper or presentation—which I hope to turn into an article. I tend to also use “Stickies” to sometimes to flesh out some of those ideas a bit more thoroughly—or make a quick note of something I want to revisit later.

Evernote I am using a bit differently. Evernote has the ability to create notebooks, and be a bit more organized. While I do a lot of academic writing, I am trying to gain confidence as a creative writer of sorts too. I have created a notebook for this Meandering Mohawk blog, and other forms of creative writing that is not academic in nature. Some of it may see the light of day someday, and some it may never see the light of day—but it will be there.

On a tangential note, I fell in love with the idea of Mark Twain’s writing and work being held for a century—before being allowed to breathe or see daylight. While I am certainly no Mark Twain—that whole concept of locking doing my thinking and writing for a century amuses me to no end.

Finally, as I assume more responsibilities in my professional life, and as the new Director of Native American Studies I have begun to use Onenote more thoroughly. While procrastination has long been a problem, it cannot and will not be acceptable in these new roles and ventures I am attempting in my career.

Since I have not won the lottery, and can thus employ a personal assistant—I am hoping Onenote makes things a bit easier professionally to stay organized and on top of things.

What is really intriguing is that there is all of these various software and app programs that are supposed to make life easier, but can and do often have a learning curve. While there is ease to using them, there is also a bit of data entry that goes with it too. I mean I think of all the backup options available too, including: Carbonite, iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive—and yes, I use them all as well—are we beginning to suffer from over saturation and over contemplation in attempts to stay organized and backed up?

Finding Those Zen Moments in Life

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I am sure people can outline the pros and cons of each—ultimately we have to find out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t work. This entry started out to be with how I was coping with stress of classes starting on Monday and feelings of inadequacy over having accomplished some projects but not others. But in the end, it ended up being about new tools and techniques I am using to cope with my ever-changing world and responsibilities in an attempt to stay better organized and on task.

Lastly, I think we need to allow ourselves time to breath and find the small joys in life. And most importantly, sometimes we need to unplug, if only for a night or so—or even just a few hours. In my case, all work and no play don’t just make me a dull man—it makes me a downright cranky man. I have found solace in going for walks with the dogs, playing darts with friends at a local pub, or sometimes just being quiet in my fortress of solitude (my home) while listening to hours of streaming music (or watching too much Netflix).

For there is always work to do, projects to write, books to read, student work to grade, coursework to prep, or more meetings to attend; so sometimes as I am finding out—it is ok to just be in place and be still while the dogs gently snore nearby!

So, have you found your moment of solace and quiet today?

Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA