On problem with paper is that if you start writing down things on paper you start having to manage the paper. It's physical, so it starts taking up physical space in a way a file or Evernote note doesn't.

14Qiaochu_Yuan2yNo need; nearly all of the benefit in using paper for working memory (not long-term memory, that's what Workflowy is for) is in temporary storage, so as Jaime says you can just throw away the paper later.

Or, instead of just throwing paper away, take a photo of it with your handiest (digital) camera (probably your phone) and convert the problem of managing paper to the problem of managing (digital) photos. I often just email myself ad-hoc photos of things like this and I use Gmail for most of my email active accounts. I haven't (yet) needed to explicitly manage my Gmail storage tho.

13SilentCal2yThis. I've decided that I'm done with organizing paper. Anything I'll ever need to read again, I make digital from the start. But I still use paper routinely, in essentially write-only fashion. This is also a great thing about whiteboards--they foreclose even the option of creating management burden for yourself.

Paper Trauma

by Qiaochu_Yuan 1 min read31st Jan 201863 comments

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Andrew Critch thinks people should be spending more time than they currently are using paper as a working memory aid while thinking, especially large paper (for even more working memory). It is really astonishing how helpful this can be. We consistently encourage people to do it at CFAR workshops nearly every time they learn a new technique or attempt to debug themselves or each other.

Paper is both very helpful and very easy to use - so why aren't people already using it all the time (including me)? I have a few vivid memories of times at CFAR workshops where I had to prod two people who were having a cognitively intensive conversation to use paper as shared working memory, and by "people" I mean CFAR instructors. It's harder than it looks.

My guess is that people have unresolved aversions to paper coming from school, where paper was how other people forced you to do things like homework and tests.

Really, it's horrifying to think about how much of what you've written down on paper was entirely forced on you.

So, you'll need to do some work if you want to reclaim the right to write whatever you want on paper, instead of whatever you've been trained to write. Good luck. Here are some words to take with you on your way.

Just because you are writing on paper does not mean you are still in school.

Nobody is going to grade you.

This is not homework. This is not a test.

This is your mind.

This is your life.

Think.