Seth Etter reminds us that pen and paper is a powerful and simple tool that can help you start to solve problems.

Pen and paper. Whenever I catch myself stuck in the whirlpool, feeling not-great because I know I’m not doing what I want to be doing, or what I should be doing, I step away, grab pen and paper, and start writing.

The simple act of writing can focus my thoughts and attention in a way that nothing else can. Free from distractions, just a canvas to pour my thoughts into, and turn them into something with a sense of direction and purpose.

Start with pen and paper

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been using the Shape Up process on a couple of projects to see if I can get some traction on them. The Shape Up process suggests using fat marker sketches so that you don’t get bogged down too much in details.

A fat marker sketch is a sketch made with such broad strokes that adding detail is difficult or impossible. We originally did this with larger tipped Sharpie markers on paper. Today we also do it on iPads with the pen size set to a large diameter.

Fat Marker Sketches for Shape Up

I’ve been using a pocket notebook to sketch ideas for user interface designs but purposely using a thicker marker so that I can just get an outline instead. I’m finding the process quite useful. Sure I throw away a lot of designs for one reason or another, but I do eventually settle on something that works.

Software and apps come and go. There seems to be a never-ending release of new features, bug fixes and other changes to improve what many software makers tout as an already great product. If it’s already great, then why keep changing it?

Pen and paper suffer from none of these problems, and yet remains for me, the most effective tool for problem-solving and gaining a clear solution.