Whiteboard Etiquette, Paper, Pens and Productivity: Responses to MPU 442 with Joe Buhlig

I thoroughly enjoyed Mac Power Users #442: Workflows with Joe Buhlig – Relay FM. Here are some of my responses to the episode. If you want others’ thoughts, check out the MPU Discourse forum, where I’ve also summarized the following.

Joe is a very productive person.

All quite relevant to CogZest and CogSci Apps themes.

Whiteboards: Make them mobile and make them accessible to guests

I was glad to hear Joe Buhlig is a big fan of whiteboards. He has a big whiteboard, which he wipes clean before company arrives, since it’s in a shared home space. I think David Sparks mentioned his wife wouldn’t like him placing a whiteboard in a shared space, particularly when they’re hosting (his words were a bit stronger than that, I vaguely recall). Mine doesn’t mind me sometimes bringing my 3″x4″ whiteboard out when we’re hosting. It’s great for discussing intellectual points, and perhaps even raises the bar of the discussion a bit (there is nothing wrong with that — we all benefit).

On that note, see my post about antidotes to Intellectual Loneliness. (It includes how I proposed to my now wife, in case you’re into romantic stuff.)

If children are amongst the company, then my excuse for bringing out the whiteboard is that kids need to draw on something big. Lots of colors. No objections there.

I blogged about whiteboards recently.

Paper Books

Joe’s a big fan of paper, including reading paper books. Personal preference aside (and sometimes that’s the overriding factor), I’ve been arguing for over a decade that reading ebooks and academic papers with technology is well ahead of paper in some respects. That is provided one uses the right strategies. The right strategies are not that complicated, but they are even today insufficiently disseminated. This is partly because educators from K to graduate school are normally not themselves well versed in cognitive productivity with technology. It’s also because software and hardware developers have not created the right support for cognitive productivity. (Maybe if I had more readers…)

For instance, for serious reading, it’s very helpful to categorically tag text and to filter your annotations by tag. None of the major e-readers support that yet. In my Cognitive Productivity books, I explain how to overlay a tagging workflow on apps that support annotation filtering. (If you develop a PDF, ebook reader or web browser — talk to me, I’ve designed this kind of software at SFU.) With paper, you can use different colored posted notes to achieve similar effects.

I expect the iPad Pro form factor combined with the strategies I described to particularly beat (I had first said, “smoke” 🙂 ) paper — but there are no studies on that yet, and there are sure to be individual differences. Second caveat: iOS (to my knowledge) still has no software that matches Skim, which is still the best e-reader for textual annotation.

See also my recent Twitter monologue.

Paper for Thinking

Paper might not be better for delving, but it’s better for some forms of writing.

Joe mentioned that that he has never gone camping and pulled out a digital device. That sounds like good practice to me. But he has frequently pulled out paper and pencil. And that has frequently led him to important insights for his business, insights that give him a competitive advantage.

I have notebooks stashed in strategic locations through our home, for rapid access whenever I need to write or draw. There’s

  • one on my side desk,
  • one on my night table,
  • one by the sink for when I shower and shave (because typing while wet doesn’t work well, and Siri note taking still doesn’t work well enough — when I pause to think, Siri closes my note; very bad for cognitive productivity) , and
  • a family log book in the kitchen.

I also stash reams of looseleaf paper and clipboards in various places in the house: washrooms, landings, and especially… the kitchen. That way I can quickly take notes and bring them to my office without ripping out an entire page from a notebook or taking a picture. It’s about time and flow.

I also have a thing about pens. All over the house, I have blue and black pen jars. Only pens with no lids, no pencils etc, are allowed in those jars. No red, no green, no weird colors. When I need to take a note, I want to just reach for a pen, and not have to spend time and brain energy searching.

Having said that, I do also have multiple dedicated containers on my desk for different types of writing instruments.

I am very much looking forward to the next iPad Pro + Pencil which I intend to buy. I will also upgrade my iPhone when it supports Apple Pencil.

With a pen and paper (or iOS device + Apple Pencil) I can take some types of notes more quickly than I can on a computer. Sometimes handwriting is faster than typing. And drawing, well, that is normally faster with pen and paper or iOS device + Apple Pencil. More on that anon.


Lots of other relevant content in MPU 442.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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