It's back-to-school time, and you don't have to look very far to find evidence that adults, too, like buying supplies to feel organized. 

Moleskine went public in 2013 and posted 2014 sales of $104 million. Its budding partnerships with tech companies like Evernote, Adobe, and Livescribe show that a brand associated with traditional handwriting can be a powerful ally.

It would be one thing if Moleskine were the only brand attempting to bridge classic school/office supplies with contemporary gadgets. In fact, startup Baron Fig raised $168,000 in 30 days during its 2013 launch, amassing 4,242 backers who preordered 8,760 notebooks. Public Supply, another startup devoted to the elegant design of paper notebooks, cracked the New York Times style section last year. 

What's more, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence: artists, entrepreneurs, and experts who swear by the creativity and productivity virtues of old-school supplies. Which supplies, in particular? Here's a short list.

1. The traditional paper notebook or journal 

Entrepreneur Damon Brown makes a strong case for writing by hand (as opposed to typing) as a way to slow down your thinking--and to better remember what you've written. 

The research of Pam Mueller, co-author of a 2014 study on note taking that appeared in Psychological Science, affirms Brown's experience. "People who handwrite reframe the content and understand it better. On a computer, they write it all down without thinking about it," she tells The Wall Street Journal.

Author Joyce Carol Oates, who writes her novels longhand, points out that when you write something down, it's distinctly yours--for no one else has your handwriting. "Our handwriting is unique to us, like our fingerprints," she tells the Journal. "It seems bizarre to me that anyone would wish only to 'write' via a keyboard in an impersonal idiom."

2. Colored pencils 

For most entrepreneurs, sketching is a useful skill. It's a fast way to take notes and remember presentations. Even if you don't sketch, per se, you can use colors to create borders and highlight key points. 

What's more, sketching is an essential part of prototyping, especially in the early phases of product design. There's a reason most design sprints include a lightning-round of sketch exercises

C. Todd Lombardo, who leads design sprints as Constant Contact's innovation architect, champions an exercise known as the "6-up" in which participants draw out six possibilities in five minutes. "It forces your brain to be in a state of generation, not one of judgment, because you don't have the time," he says. Another benefit, he adds, is that, "once everyone sees the various drawings up on the wall, the room starts to build [ideas] on top of each other, and that momentum leads to creative solutions."

3. The big pink eraser 

Revisions are an essential part of any creative process, whether you're brainstorming a business plan or devising a new product. "Your first idea likely won't be your best. In fact, brilliant work often results from much tweaking, redoing, and going back to the drawing board," notes David Margolis, author of The Billion-Dollar Creative: Inspiring Insights for Unleashing Your Creativity and Achieving Higher Levels of Success

4. The book strap 

Before electric devices could hold a thousand books, students and prolific readers often had to carry around several books by hand. If you were born in the 1970s or earlier, you might even remember buying book straps every September, so you could more easily transport your load from class to class. 

So why might the old-school book strap be useful to a founder? Mainly because there's ample evidence you'll retain more of what you read if you read it in a paperback form, as opposed to on a Kindle or comparable device. 

"This very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you're reading," researcher Anne Mangen tells The Guardian. "Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story."

5. The paper calendar 

Productivity expert Joelle K. Jay teaches executives to become more efficient by "modeling" their time: sitting down and sketching how you'd like your ideal week or month to look. Turning the model calendar into scheduling reality is always a challenge. But if you begin by drawing it out, you'll have a clearer idea of your priorities. 

6. Post-it Notes 

Mark McGuinness, a poet, creative coach, and author, uses a stack of 3" x 3" Post-it Notes to break his to-do list into manageable chunks. The top Post-it in the stack contains his list for today. "Because my day is a limited size, I figure it makes sense to limit the size of my to-do list," he explains on 99u.com. "If I can't fit the day’s tasks on the Post-it, I'm not likely to fit them into the day." 

7. Desk trays 

Do cluttered workspaces inhibit or foster creativity? You can argue it both ways. But if you want to avoid clutter, one useful template is entrepreneur Neil Patel's two-tray system for handling incoming paper. 

Here's how it works: One tray is for new (unread, unopened) documents. The other is for documents you've looked at and need to take action on. The "old" tray serves as a visual to-do list. "This is a very simple approach," he writes, "but it works wonders for eliminating paper clutter from a desk, freeing you to be more productive."

Published on: Sep 3, 2015