How To Use COD In A Paper Environment

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So you work in a paper based office or work hybridly? Then this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast is just for you. 

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Episode 82

Hello and welcome to episode 82 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I've received a lot of questions about how to implement the COD system in a paper environment. Is it possible? Well, the answer is yes it is possible and today I will explain how to do it. 

But before we get into the question if you are struggling with time management and productivity and don't have a system at all, then take forty minutes and do my FREE COD course. 

It will give you the framework in which to create a system that works for you. COD is very flexible and as you will see today is not just designed for the digital world. You can use it in an analogue world too. 

Details of how to enrol in the course are in the show notes. 

Okay, on to this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jerri and Janet. They ask: Hi Carl, we work in a largely paper-based work environment. How would you go about organising your work when you have to deal with paper and paper files?

Thank you, Jerri and Janet, for your questions. 

At its very core COD is simple and incredibly flexible. It’s intentionally so because one size does not fit all and we all have different ways of organising and working. Many of us love to develop ideas with pen and paper, others prefer to collect everything into a digital system. And the truth is there are no right or wrong ways to do this. The only right way to do it is the way that works for you. 

So, to implement COD in a paper-based way you first need to get yourself a notebook. Now you want to get a notebook that is robust and one you can carry with you wherever you go. This will become your to-do list manager. 

Now just as an aside here, back in the days when I used a hybrid system, I carried a little pocket notebook with me. One with easy to tear off sheets. This I carried in my pocket whenever I couldn't carry my main notebook. I used it for those ‘just in case moments’. Times like when I was having lunch or dinner. This way I still had a way to collect everything no matter where I was or what I was doing. 

Okay, so you have your notebook to manage all your to-dos, now where do you put all the incoming paper? Well, you will also need an in-basket. Now, your in-basket should be at your main workstation. If you work from an office and home, it might be a good idea to have two in-baskets. However, I never felt the need for two. Because I was collecting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere I went I just tore off the notes and put them into my in-basket at my home office when I was next there. 

Now the notebook you are using for your to-do list manager is where you put your lists. All you really need is a master list and a daily list. Put everything on your master list and when you do the 2+8 prioritisation at the end of the day you can put tasks from master list to your daily list. 

But again, how you organise your daily to-do list is entirely up to you - it has to work for you. But even wit paper, you can still operate the 2+8 Prioritisation system. Every evening, before you go to bed you open up your notebook, with the next day’s date at the top and start with your two objectives. Then leave a line space and write you eight focus tasks for the day—the eight tasks you really want to complete. 

You can use the right-hand page for your notes for the day, observations and little reminders if you wish. 

Okay, now for all your paper files. 

For this, you will need a way to store all your project materials. The best way is to get yourself a filing cabinet, but that might be hard to do these days. Now when I was transitioning to a digital system I used a shelf on my bookcase next to my desk. I could see the names of the files clearly on the folders I used so it was always easy to access papers I needed. 

The key with this system is to make sure once a project is completed or you no longer need the documents you were keeping you remove them. Either throw them away or archive them in a box somewhere. You do not want to get in that awful position of having a mix of completed and active projects all in the same place. You would just go numb to all the files you have in there. 

Now your notes, use your notebook. 

Again, you want to have your current notes with you at all times. Here all you need to do is start at the back of your notebook. Keep your daily lists at the front and your notes at the back. You can use post-it notes to separate projects and give you easy access to your notes. The thing here is not to have too many notebooks. I know a lot of people have different notebooks for different projects and that’s okay if it works for you. Personally, I never liked that idea, and so kept meeting notes and projects ideas at the back of my one current notebook. 

One area I would not move to a digital system is my calendar. These days, airlines and other places you may make bookings will send you a calendar link that adds all the right information you need to your calendar. Likewise, when you use a digital calendar you can share calendars with family and friends. All you need to do is print off your calendar for the week after you have done your weekly review and fold it into your notebook. You can then add and delete events by hand. 

One of my friends here in Korea, a very successful businessman and teacher, does this every week. Every Monday morning his assistant prints off his calendar for the week and he folds it into his little pocketbook. He can reference that paper anytime he wants to see where he needs to be and when. He is one person I’ve met who has never missed an appointment, so it must work. 

Now speaking of printing things out, if you want to maintain some digital system and make things a little easier for your processing and storing, then remember almost all to-do list managers do give you the option to print out your daily list. Todoist, for example, can send you an email every morning with your daily list. It is organised beautifully and you can print that out. You can add new tasks, cross of tasks when you have done them or add a new date and update your system when you get back to your computer. This would actually be a great way for those of you who like using pen and paper. It allows you the ability to organise digitally but still maintain your daily task management in an analogue way. 

In many ways, if you do print out your daily to-do list and carry that with you all day, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks to that one sheet of paper, it will give you a great way to review your day and plan the next. All you would need to do is give yourself the ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to sit down with your computer and update everything add and plan out your next day. Sounds almost idyllic to me. 

Now, remember, while paper-based working still exists, the digital way is a lot more efficient and means you can have access to all your notes and files through the cloud. If you have a smartphone then you still have access to your Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud. So it is worth thinking about still maintaining your files in the cloud. Of course, there may still be documents that you need to retain hard copies of and for that you can create physical files. What you do need to do though is to make sure you are maintaining those files and keeping them current. 

COD is very flexible. It is designed to be a framework that allows you to collect your tasks, ideas and events into a single place, give you time at the end of the day to organise those things you collected and focuses you on doing the work. How you collect and organise is up to you. All you need to do is find the best method for you. That can take a bit of experimenting, but it is worth it because once you do have a strong framework in place your effectiveness and efficiency improve and you become a lot less stressed and overwhelmed. 

So there you go Jerri and Janet. I hope that has answered your question and given you some ideas about how to use COD with your paper-based working. 

Thank you for your wonderful question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me at or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

It just remains for me know to wish you all a very very productive week.