Paper is cheap

I study a unit entitled ‘Behavioural Finance: the Psychology of Investment’ at the moment. It’s fascinating, looking at bridging the gap between the innumerate assumptions in economic models and how people behave in reality. In a seminar a few weeks ago we were talking about the return on investment of different types of asset over the extremely long term (30-50 years): property, precious metals, stocks etc. (Stocks are about 7% by the way).

It got me thinking about the ROI of a notebook and pen. You actually can’t attach a value to it – it’s impossible to imagine how exponentially huge it is. The seeds of ideas scribbled on scraps are so so valuable. And there’s no barrier to entry. Sure, you can buy a Mont Blanc pen and extra thick cartridge paper, but it’s not going to improve the quality of the work. The handwriting may be nicer – but that’s not the goal here.

An awful tendency I have is to worry about how pages in notebooks look – crossing out a date or fretting about inconsistent methods of planning week to week. It’s so silly to care. The cost of a piece of paper and a biro is negligible. Don’t worry about fucking up, it’s part of the process, and incredibly worth it for getting yourself in that headspace of strategising, capturing ephemeral thoughts and crystallising them on paper, writing affirmations or reminders to yourself.

Here’s an example of one incredibly valuable, life transforming thing you can do with a notebook and a pen: write a to-do list. You can draw some checkboxes next to the items. Maybe if you want to get really fancy you can group these thematically, rank them in order of importance… The critical thing is just to start doing them and not get bogged down.

Compare the lives of someone who writes lists like this and someone who doesn’t.

The former is focussed, empowered, goal driven – they’re progressing in the world they’ve constructed around them. You’ll probably never finish everything on your list (nor should you – you should keep adding more and more, having more experiences). But that doesn’t matter. It’s the forward momentum.

Without it, I’d be drifting around. What should I do next? Go on Instagram for another 30 minutes? Cycle over to Facebook and Snapchat occasionally and repeat the cycle? Maybe half heartedly do some work?

I need the sense that at the end of the day, I’ve progressed somehow. A list is the perfect way to see that progression on paper. And the best thing about this? You get to do it all over again, every night before you go to sleep. Plan and execute your day exactly as you want to (1).

Paper’s cheap. Write stuff, scribble, doodle, draw charts, boxes, create lists and quotes, reminders, poems, copy out passages of your favourite books, lyrics. It’s the smartest investment decision you could make (what fund manager doles out advice like this?).


A selection of pages from a couple of notebooks I have on the go at the moment:


  1. Nice work – I love dotted notebook pages. I have one traditional notebook I use for ideas and goals, but for my daily work I use an old Franklin Planner. I xerox paper sheet with dots, cut them in half, and punch them into the planner. That way, I can move pages around and separate work and personal stuff.

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Bill – thanks for the comment. My housemate has a Franklin Planner, I have to admit I’ve been pretty intrigued by it. I might have to check it out. I also definitely get the idea of work/ideas/personal notebooks. My problem is I tend to have ideas about everything all at once and jot it down anywhere!


Join the conversation. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s