Year for Productivity: Session 5: It’s all about the P’s: Paper, Productivity and Pomodoro


Paper as a productivity tool?  Really?  In this day and age of super connected mobility with online resources? Believe it or not, paper still has a great deal to offer to our productivity toolbox.

Kevin Purdy, in a LifeHacker Top 10 post from 2008(Top 10 Printable Paper Productivity Tools), suggests:

“There’s a reason there’s still so much paper around in this hyper-connected, everything-online age: the stuff is cheap, portable, compatible with all your applications, and everyone masters the interface by the time they’re out of the first grade.”

His list has stood the test of time and all of his suggested sites are still active link destinations today.  There are sites that offer free downloadable paper types (graph paper that you can even customize the block size), printable rulers for measuring on the go, a template for students using Cornell’s method of note-taking, a nifty format tool that will convert a PDF into a printable booklet, and, what I consider to be the jewel overall, the D*I*Y Planner.  This outstanding site allows you to create a paper planner that is customized to your own needs and whims. Best yet, the templates are all free.   If you can’t find the perfect form at D*I*Y Planner, head on over to David Seah’s site.  He also has a collection of templates to master paper-based workflows.  Some are creative commons and some are for a small fee.

Note-taking and Paper:

In a brand new NY Times bestselling book out this year, Mike Rohde introduces his visual method of note-taking.  The Sketchnote Handbook illustrates his method even as it imparts guidance and principles to enable the reader to apply the method for himself.  Chock full of free-form, quick drawings and multi-sized lettering, it has the appeal of a graphic novel, enticing readers to explore its pages and enjoy its fun presentation while it imparts a clear, easy to implement method for better note-taking. If you are a person who constantly finds yourself doodling during phone calls, webinars, meetings or presentations, this might be just the method for you.  I think this method will also appeal to students who grew up with the graphic format of the technique.

The Sketchnote method only requires the ability to draw five simple shapes: a circle, a square, a triangle, a straight (relatively) line, and a dot. Any sketch can be formed from these shapes.  The idea is not to create art, rather, a visual representation of a thought.  While Rohde prefers a small moleskin notebook and pen(s), the Sketchnote process could also be performed digitally on tablets or smartphones with a stylus. Another option is a new product that is discussed in your exercises. A nifty “Evernote Smart Notebook” produced by the Moleskin folks!

Regardless of whether you use  paper productivity forms or sketch your notes, the underlying states of clutter and information overload from paper-like items is a challenge for each of us.  Some swear by the method of going “paperless”, others say paperless is not the answer either.  Dr. Audri Lanford coined the term “paperitis” to describe this situation.  She, along with her husband host the site by the same name: Paperitis.  They have “been helping businesses save time, money and trees by going paperless since 1985”.  While they are a consultation service, their site is rich with articles and tips on making a start with taking back control. If for no other reason, they have a great set of cartoons that will make you smile.

Pomodoro Technique:

The final topic we are going to consider today is the Pomodoro Technique.  This technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late ’80’s (per his book intro), is a way of breaking time into small chunks (25 minutes) of intensely focused time.  A free pdf of his original book on the technique is available. In 2010, Steffan Noteberg, also published a book on the method worth considering.  It offers a nice introduction to the technique as well as discussing the psychology and physiology that is behind the success of the system.

The technique itself is simple. Choose a project you need to complete. Block out time to work on this project, and arrange that time in 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks between. During those 25 minute intervals, you may do nothing but the project.  No answering phones, no reading emails, no putting out fires… Well, ok.  If your office is literally on fire, you are allowed to evacuate until the fire professionals call the all clear, but when you come back, start that 25 minute block over again.

The original technique was developed using a simple kitchen timer (hence the picture of the tomato and the name Pomodoro which is the Italian term for tomato), but application developers have quickly jumped on the bandwagon, creating a plethora of apps that apply the technique and even produce progress reports for your use of the technique over time.  Wikipedia has a nice list of a number of different Pomodoro applications. There are apps for your iphone and ipad, for your Chrome browser, your android devices… just a google search will pull them up.  One that I find useful is focus booster – Live.  It is available as an app, but I like the simple online version that can start that 25 minute countdown by just a click without any messy downloads. If you are an online gaming buff that is motivated by the sands of time slipping away on your quest, Pomodoro might be just the technique for you to try. (Magic sword and damsel in distress not included.)


For Further Exploration and Insight:

  1. Chapter 4 of The Sketchnote Handbook is available for preview. Go to the author’s blog to download the sample chapter. Chapter 4 in the book and describes the Sketchnoting Process. You can also view three short podcasts by the author at his site.
  2. Having read Chapter 4 in exercise #1, try practicing the method while listening to a pre-recorded webinar.  If you don’t have one already waiting in your to-do queue that you need to view, you could watch the video of David Allen presenting his Getting Things Done method that Mary introduced in Session 4.
  3. The Moleskine company has collaborated with the Evernote folks and created a special Evernote Smart Notebook.  Take a few minutes now and check it out here at the Getting Started Guide.  How might this tool help your workflow and productivity?  Could you combine it with the Sketchnote method?
  4. Review the Pomodoro Technique.  Try to apply the method on a project you need to start today.  How often did you  have to keep yourself from straying from the task?  How much did you accomplish during the session?

Selected Readings:

Broida, Rick. Pomodoro Technique apps roundup. PC World, Feb 2012. Accessed 03/2013 from:

Cirillo, Francesco. (2006) The Pomodoro Technique.  Accessed 03/2013 from:

D*I*Y Planner: the best thing in printing since Gutenberg.

Nöteberg, Staffan.(2010) Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time. Pragmatic Bookshelf

Official Pomorodo Technique Website:

Purty, Kevin: Top 10 Printable Paper Productivity Tools  from LifeHacker’s Top 10 Posts from 2008.

Rhode, Mike. (2013). The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking. Peachpit Press.

Rohdesign: Website of Mike Rhode. Find his ongoing sketchnote podcasts here


Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/

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