The West Wing Productivity System

The last time I rewatched “The West Wing” I was once again impressed by how good people were at their jobs. How productive everyone was. I wondered how I could be that productive.

I noticed that the entire process used by the staff seemed to be carrying around folders full of paper and barking things like “Get me the file on senator Jones and the notes from our briefing!” Within minutes they would be perusing a bunch of photos and papers scattered about a desk and they’d develop a plan right then and there. Awesome!

So, I started organizing all of my projects in manilla folders. One folder per project. I called it the “West Wing Productivity System”. I’d print meeting notes, mindmaps, emails, etc and put them in the appropriate folder. I kept a single summary sheet clipped to the inside with contact information, summary info, budgets, etc.

Whenever I needed to work on a project, I’d grab the folder, spread its contents across my desk, and get to work. It was nice knowing where everything was. It was nice being able to see everything at once, if necessary. (I had a big desk).

On the other hand, it was a pain when I needed to share something with colleagues. Search kind of sucked. And if I happened to be at home without the proper folder in my bag I was screwed.

It was fun for a while, but this was nearly 10 years ago. I still use folders, just not quite so deliberately. Just for the hell of it, I’ve brought back the system for some of my home projects. There’s not a lot of risk and I get to shuffle papers around again like I’m Josh’s assistant or something.

Some unremarkable pens the Internet made me buy

I’m an impressionable young man, and when I notice someone on The Internet raving about something, I want to feel that way, too. I often order whatever that thing is, only to be disappointed. For example, here are a few of the pens I bought after being told how remarkable they are. They’re not that remarkable.

Highlighting in notebooks

One valid criticism of using paper for notes is that searching through notebooks is rather difficult. With my poor handwriting, scanning for certain information in a wash of squiggly lines can be painfully slow.

For a couple of months now I’ve been going back through my notes periodically and highlighting key words and phrases. I’ve found that if I emphasize the most relevant bit of each note, I can find most things fairly quickly. It also helps when simply perusing old notes. Usually, I want to skip anything “meta” like which pen I’m using or the regular “Why am I still using paper?” fluff. Zipping over the highlighted phrases makes quick work of it.

Someday this could also help with building an index. If I ever decide to bother, that is.

So yeah, highlighting my paper notes is useful and I recommend it. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.