The Power of Paper

David Seah had trouble staying focused. He'd start a task—say, doing the laundry—but inevitably get distracted by ane-mail, a magazine or his cats. His computerized to-do list helped, but only when he was at his PC. What he needed was a way to keep that list fixed in his peripheral vision. So Seah bought an archery arm guard and, by combining it with a vinyl pocket protector, Post-It notes and index cards, made a "gauntlet of productivity": a wristband display that looks like what NFL quarterbacks wear to call plays. While Seah hasn't worn it in public, he did post a photo on his blog, triggering a stream of enthusiastic replies.

It's just one of the do-it-yourself schemes that have popped up on productivity blogs. While bloggers are a high-tech crowd, many suggest that low-tech, homemade tools work better than electronic organizers. One popular example is the Hipster PDA: a stack of index cards held by a binder clip, created by blogger Merlin Mann in 2004 as a tongue-in-cheek response to the craze for "personal digital assistants." A newer entry is the Pocket Mod; its free instructions show how to create the small notebook with a sheet of paper, a swipe of scissors and careful folding.

Tech companies are understandably dismissive of paper planners. Jim Christensen, a Palm spokesman, says it takes him 15 seconds to enter a year's reminders for weekly meetings into his Palm Treo—a task he said would take 13 minutes to write on paper. PDAs can also be synced with computers for easier backups.

Still, retailers like Franklin Covey have noted an increase in customers who buy handheld devices but later retreat to paper. Making a notation on paper "seems to just sink deeper into your brain," says senior VP Gordon Wilson. Office-product companies are listening to the bloggers. Staples' latest line of day planners offers hipper covers, more space for notes and a binding system making it easier to flip to the current week.

Techies laud not only paper's efficiencies but also its idiosyncratic joys. Entrepreneur Jon Symons enjoys seeing his day's tasks spread out on 40 handwritten Post-It notes, which he rips down as he completes each to-do. "There's something very beautiful about it," he says. Amid the cacophony of gadgets, the rip and rustle of paper provide surprising comfort.