I occasionally have this idealistic daydream where my workspace is a single computer on an large empty desk, in a white room with no other furniture or discernible features. Just empty space.

One key aspect of this dream is the 100% lack of paper and writing paraphernalia.

In almost every context of life I avoid paper like the plague (except cash and books).

The amount of web available to browse is constantly expanding. The initial benefit of rapid access to organized information often spirals into an infinite loop of researching without implementation, without decision. All that researching may end up draining the creative juices that originally caused you to initiate the project, and result in procrastination. Procrastination is one of the leading causes for premature death of revolutionary web applications.

But can’t you just type stuff into a text editor instead?

Yeah, sure. Here’s the steps involved, since you’re asking:

  1. Pick a text editor (you probably have more than one, and use them all for different things.
  2. If you don’t have it open, start the application; otherwise, switch to it.
  3. Create new tab/window
  4. Save as, select a location for the file and type out a name.
  5. Type your notes. Pick a method of headline identification, add formatting like indented lists and asterisks for emphasized text, and brackets for links.
  6. Start writing. Maybe you’re a pro and have a nice shiny markdown editor app installed with super productive keyboard shortcuts. Ok what was ordered list again? Cmd+L? No that’s unordered, it’s Cmd+Alt+L. Cool now bold the headline with Cmd+B - oh wait, just use a headline indication that will bold it automatically (Cmd+Z, Cmd+1). I wonder what other themes there are on this app, the new version just came out - don’t worry there’s a shortcut for prefs: Cmd+, that will take us there in no time. Etc, etc.
  7. Keep the text editor window with your note handy somewhere in your GUI. Make sure to keep the Alt+Tab sequence in your working memory, or maybe assign a hot key. There are some great articles on Google about using the services menu to assign your own custom keyboard shortcuts to any application.
  8. Now eventually you’ve got to close the window, but don’t worry. Next time you need to info just open it up from the file browser. What did you name it again? Hmm… Maybe check that recent document list in your OS… Or the recent list in the text editor… Cool there it is.

Yes, this is a gross dramatization, and technically none of this is a problem if you’re perfectly focused. But for most of us ADHD folks who build the web without the aid of performance enhancing prescription drugs, these distractions happen. A lot. Computers perform textual operations quickly with virtually no effort, meaning each micro formatting change or interlude or visit to the preferences pane doesn’t seem to take much time - so why not do it? Unfortunately, these micro actions add up fast, and constantly break our concentration. Paper, on the other hand, doesn’t have a settings pane, or copy/paste/delete. It doesn’t even have Text Expander or syntax highlighting. And it requires more work to write. So make it count - clear and concise, efficient.

Now, if you’re interested in working a new text editor into your development stack, here’s a potential workflow for paper note taking:

  1. Keep a pen and notebook open at your desk, next to your keyboard.
  2. Write stuff down, from time to time. Examples:
    • Something to do soon
    • An outline of something you’re working on.
    • Pro’s VS. Con’s of something important.
    • Ideas that pop into your head while you’re doing something that needs to be finished.
    • Fun doodles and drawings, maybe whilst waiting for thine loading bar.
    • Etc.

If you’ve been out of high school long enough and mostly use a keyboard, this will feel very award at first. No pain no gain.