As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a more-than-avid fan of technology and productivity. I was an early adopter of the digital organizer and later the smartphone. (Remember the Palm Treo? Yeah, I had one.) I was writing macros and developing mini databases back in the 1990’s when I first discovered Microsoft Excel and Access.
But for some reason, I always was (and continue to be) the one who brought pen and paper to meetings. In fact, just recently, Jason mentioned it and asked me why someone so enamored with technology continued to take a notebook and pen to meetings. I thought about it for a while, noted other times when I tended to use pen and paper over technology, and came up with some reasons. Sure enough, there is some logic behind what comes so naturally to me (and to many others).
Essentially, pen and paper are superior to technology in four scenarios:
- during the planning phase of a project
- when retention of material discussed is important
- when a task requires focus
- when an activity involves creativity
Making a Plan
Project planning often involves brainstorming, setting goals, and sketching ideas. A blank piece of paper allows you to write or sketch anything, just about anywhere on the page. It also allows for adding notes or comments on the page. This open space, as opposed to the more linear structure of a Word document or the clunkiness of most visual design tools, tends to stimulate the generation of ideas. I would attribute the recent popularity of bullet journaling to this phenomenon.
The key advantage of taking handwritten notes in class or in a meeting over using a computer is that doing so results in better retention of the material discussed. One reason for this is that writing takes longer, which forces you to quickly summarize what is being said and write down key points. I also tend to sketch pictures or make diagrams in my notes, which goes a long way toward remembering and processing the information. People who take notes with a computer often find themselves simply transcribing the discussion — much like a stenographer or a court reporter — without actually listening to and digesting the material. I have found that when discussing a meeting days after the fact I often remember key details without even referring to my notes.
We all have activities that require focus — writing a blog post, developing a flowchart, or auditing financial information, for example — that are usually better completed with a paper and pen, as the computer invites your attention to stray from the task at hand. Perhaps you can find a quiet corner to write that blog post in a notebook before typing it out on the computer. Hang a large whiteboard in your office and use different colored dry erase markers to draw the flowchart you have likely had percolating in your mind. Print out that financial report and use a red pen to mark it up for corrections. You will likely find that you’re able to finish these activities more quickly than if you use your computer.
Being a design firm, we here at ThirdSide are all about creativity. I have noticed that Pat, our lead designer, keeps a notebook at his desk that is full of sketches and notes. Rather than jump right into the design tools he has on his computer, he starts with that notebook. And he will also turn back to the notebook at times in the middle of the design process to sketch ideas before adding them to the digital design. Even those of us whose careers are not necessarily in a creative field sometimes have novel ideas that pop into our mind at random times. Keeping a notebook close at hand is good for jotting down those ideas and making additional notes when they come to us, to further develop the idea into something tangible.
So, continue to use technology to automate your processes and to give your work the professional look that your clients and customers deserve. But don’t abandon the pens and paper (or other writing surfaces) just yet. When used strategically, both forms of media will add value to your work.