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Secret Weapons: Pen and Paper

When doing computer work there is an obvious inclination to doing your note-taking and documenting on the computer. And this makes sense, as it makes your notes accessible from anywhere and you never have to worry about losing them. The problem is that you are making major trade-offs when it come to retention and consideration of your thoughts.

Any number of studies and articles over the past few years have highlighted the positives of handwritten notes.

It turns out what we learned in grade school was correct: writing things down means you are better able to recall them later. This, it turns out, needs to be done with pen and paper to be effective as typed notes doing see the same level of positive effect.

This might be disheartening news for many of us who have lost what little handwriting capabilities we had and can type much faster than we can write longhand, but perhaps the slowness of handwritten notes is the key. For example, during a lecture, the slowness of writing requires one to listen, process, and then take abbreviated notes. A strong typist can capture the lecture almost word for word, focusing only on the typing.

Studies also point to the laptops as being distracting. Despite your intention to focus on the topic at hand -- be is a lecture, a speech, a presentation, or a Zoom call -- laptops are filled with distractions where a pen and paper has no battery, alerts, pop-ups, or ability to quickly search for more information on a topic.

Of course notebooks come with their own problems. A misplaced backpack or spilled coffee and lead to a disaster, with dozens of hours of work lost. This is something that would (almost) never happen with Google Docs, or at least would be completely avoidable with digital notes.

This risk can be mitigated by taking notes by hand first, perhaps in a nice notebook with a water-safe, pigmented pen and then to type in the notes later. This would be usefully for important information that is worth considering twice. It is also possible to simply scan in documents, which can be done at incredible speed and accuracy with any document scanner.

My recommendation? Keep a paper notebook and a reliable pen at handy. Jot down your thoughts there, especially those taken on an important call, during a meeting with stakeholders, and other places where proper retention matters. Don't change your workflow for long pieces of text that you are going to drop into your notepad and search through later -- computers are great at that. So improve your notetaking when it matters and then stay efficient everywhere else.

Top comments (1)

toymachine profile image

Thanks for stopping by everyone!