5 Analog Items That Can Make Your Life More Creative

Creatives often have a tendency to become a little obsessive when it comes to collecting gear, gadgets, and toys. The latest camera, computer software, lighting rigs, and smartphones are groundbreaking pieces of technology that can increase your productivity, but sometime we forget that there are very effective tools outside of the digital realm.

1. A Notebook

Pen and paper is still the perfect tool for information recording. I have spoken on this blog several times about how important these two tools are to both the efficiency and creativity of your work. There are two different types I use regularly. The first is a small pocket-sized notebook with a grid that I carry with me on shoots. This comes in handy for jotting quick notes, numbers, names and addresses. The grid style also makes it very easy to draw out storyboard and lighting diagrams on the fly. I prefer books that are simple, plain, and durable. That way I don’t feel bad when I rip the pages out to give to an assistant or post on my cork board. I prefer the grid style notebooks from Field Notes. You would be surprised how absolutely helpful carrying these small notebooks has been for me.

The other type I carry is a larger bound notebook that I use for recording production ideas and concepts. This is my brainstorming book. I prefer to write my ideas down with pen and paper as they come to me for two reasons. First, if I always have the book with me, and make a point to write the ideas down as they come to me, I ensure that I never have one of those great ideas that slips away for lack of recording. The second reason I prefer to write them out in an analog format is that the act of writing out by hand makes you think about it in a different way than typing it. You will work through the idea more as you record it, and you involve your tactile senses in the idea as you record it into a physical object, rather than digital media. You don’t need anything crazy or ostentatious. I like a simple Moleskine notebook that travels easily.

Alternative for Digital Purists

When it comes to my all-in-one solution for most anything related to creativity, Evernote is my go-to piece of software. Recording ideas is a breeze, and they can be kept in any format you need due to Evernote’s free-form nature. The main feature I love about Evernote is its portability. You can log in from a desktop, from your phone, from anywhere. As long as you have a web connection you can use your digital notebooks. All of my active project briefs and shoot outlines start in Evernote as a free-form collection of notes and inspirations before they get translated into a polished format.

2. A Cork Board

The problem with digital notebooks is that they can be filed away; out of sight, out of mind. We only actively look at them when we need to actively write or recall something. But what about passive review, those little moments when we glance at something without concentrating on it, when we absent-mindedly gaze at something and observe it in a more passive and neutral way? These moments can often spark ideas and trains of thought that we would not normally reach through more aggressive methods of thought. Images, articles, doodles, magazine clippings, and advertisement cutouts are all great pieces of visual information to surround yourself with. I often like to cover my boards in test shots, casting images, and printouts of rough images that need to be edited for a few days to process passively. It will give you a very different insight and understanding of how we relate to visual information over longer periods of time.

Alternative for Digital Purists

Again, Evernote makes an appearance on the list. As previously stated, this is a great tool for all sorts of creative uses. Cataloguing reference images and putting together a reference board digitally is an easily achievable task with Evernote. And while it may lack the befits of passive observation that a bulletin board brings, it is a very convenient and efficient tool for organizing visual data that has multiple access points.

3. Post-It Notes

Sometimes digital technology lets us be a little too specific for our own good, which may result in micromanaging our time and tasks to an unhealthy degree. It is harmful and ultimately a productivity killer, yet many creatives have become addicted to their to-do lists. Any deviation from their specifically laid out order of tasks can send them into a response pattern that ultimately leads to them getting little accomplished. On the other end of the spectrum, do you have that one item in your to-do list that is weeks or months past the due date you set, that you keep deferring and putting off to a point where you have become psychologically blind to it when that little reminder pops up on your screen?

A Post-It note may be your ideal solution. Every evening before bed, or in the morning when you first get up, write out a list of tasks that you need to complete that day. Start with your one major project or task written on one half of the note, and a listing of smaller tasks on the other. If you carry out all the tasks on the note, start a new one and start working on future or back burner tasks. If you fail to complete a task, you have to write that task out on the next day’s Post-It. If you have to keep monotonously writing the same task out over and over each day, you will have a much stronger impetus to get it completed in the end. The great thing about the Post-It method is that it makes you prioritize your tasks in a more compartmentalized, and yet broader way. If it won’t fit on the note, take care of your more pressing tasks first. You will find yourself setting your tasks in broader goal oriented terms and not micromanaging your day to the minute. The 99% has a really in-depth article that explores this topic further.

Alternative for Digital Purists

When it comes to digital to-do lists, I am a fan of simplicity. As long as I can break my broader tasks down by project or area of responsibility I find that I can be goal oriented without micromanaging myself, and that my day is tailored and mutable enough to meet those random immediate demands that come up. I used to use Things for my task management, but I have also had success in the past with Remember The Milk.

4. Magazines and Books

Sometimes you can just get fed up with looking at your own work and with reading your own blogs. It is so important to experience everything else that is out there in the creative world. Sit down and read a magazine or book from time to time, whether it has to do with your industry or not. Go to an art gallery or watch a movie. So often we forget that sources of media both inside and out of our own work can inform our creativity. This sort of research can lead to new ideas, the ability to stay current in your field, relaxation, and start discussions with your peers that lead to creative revelation. Set aside some time every week to peruse the magazines you want to see your work in, and set another block aside to go view some creative work outside of your own medium.

Alternative for Digital Purists

There are plenty of sites out there to see high-end and award-winning creative work. In the advertising world I like to make daily visits to a few blogs including I Believe in Advertising and Ads of the World. Many magazines have digital editions now, and there are many industry blogs that report on fantastic projects. And for those interested in the web itself, Google Labs recently released a presentation on the Creative Internet detailing 106 groundbreaking projects.

5. A Couch

How often do you just do nothing? You will be amazed how much it can help your creativity and productivity. A few times a week set aside an hour to just lay on the couch or sit outside and let your mind wander. The trick here is to remove those casual distractions that can stop us from free-form thought; turn your phone off, no television, no napping, just let your mind go where it wants to.  The idea is to generate ideas, work on creative solutions to problems — it does not matter. Just don’t go in with a plan, let your mind go to the topics it wants to go to and record everything you come up with.

Alternative for Digital Purists

None. There is really no digital equal to just getting out of your workspace and letting your brain do its own thing. It is a refreshing way to spark idea generation because so often attempting to force inspiration is a sure-fire way not to find it.

Remember a few things:

There is no best tool, there is just what’s best for you

It is the ideas that are important, not the equipment

Don’t let the artifact get in the way of the process.

3 thoughts on “5 Analog Items That Can Make Your Life More Creative”

  1. Hello Luke, My name is Ron I work for Evernote and came across your blog. I really enjoyed the post especially the final few lines “There is no best tool, there is just what’s best for you” is a great one. Thanks so much for including Evernote, I’m glad to hear you’re finding use for our app. The whole analog vs digital format was a very interesting concept and I really enjoyed it.

    One thing we are proud of is the flexibility our app offers. We accept creativity in all its forms and we don’t limit or prohibit your preferred way to work. If you prefer working with paper one easy way to get the benefits of a digital note is to snap a photo of the paper or run it through a scanner and add it into Evernote. We’ll make the text searchable (we can recognize handwriting) this gives you the best of both worlds, a piece of paper that can last a lifetime and never be lost as well as being easy to categorize and search through in addition to being available on any device you use.



    1. Ron,

      That’s great to know, and I should have made note of that feature for my readers. Evernote is, without exaggeration, an invaluable tool in my business for sorting through all the myriad pieces of scribbled notes, press clippings, digital tear sheets, visual inspiration, lists, and outlines that I am juggling at any one time.


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