The main reason why there are so many productivity apps available is simply that there is a strong demand for it. People are desperately trying to improve their productivity by testing different systems and processes. Is it possible that the perfect system is not one that was recently invented, but one that has been available for thousands of years?
Good old pen and paper. Doubtful? There are strong benefits of writing by hand and all contribute to your productivity.
Sometimes the answer is in front of you all along. The tool that often gets overlooked.
Benefits of Writing by Hand
1. Handwriting Aids in Learning and Memorizing
There was research done by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer that compared the difference in material absorption when taking notes using pen and paper compared to laptops.
In three studies, they found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. The study showed that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
Taking notes by hand increases the level of understanding, and as a result, the learning of concepts. Handwriting forces us to process information and summarize it, thereby activating reflection and critical thinking.
We also memorize better when writing by hand because we have “body memory.” Holding a pen, feeling paper, and moving our hand according to our thoughts are all actions that activate different areas of the brain and create better-lasting memories.
When my son was struggling in his French class, I changed my approach in tutoring him. When he had a test, I used to verbally ask him questions and he would try to answer correctly. His marks were below average. I then started questioning him and having him write down the answers on paper. His average raised by almost 10 points.
Remember back in school when you made mistakes on those spelling tests? Part of your homework was to write down the correct answer to your mistakes 5 times. Although it may have felt like it at the time, this wasn’t meant as a punishment. It was meant as a learning aid. The power of writing material you need to absorb on paper still holds true today.
Suggestions for using pen and paper vs. electronics:
- Meeting notes
- Lecture notes
- Grocery list (it is just much faster to write it down on paper)
2. Writing by Hand Helps You to Focus
During meetings or conferences, I used to take all my notes on my iPad. I recently changed to jotting notes on a notebook. I found it is not only beneficial to my learning process, it also eliminates distractions. No matter how much I tried to stop myself, I would click on notifications that popped up informing me that I had a new email.
Computers and tablets are connected to the internet and with the internet come multiple sources of distractions. Social media notifications, calendar pop-ups, and email messages are all fighting for your attention.
Productivity is about getting the most important things done in a timely matter. Anything that takes away your focus is a huge detriment to your productivity.
Another advantage of working with pen and paper is that it puts you in a less distracting environment. Handwriting stimulates a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System. The RAS acts as a filter for everything our brain needs to process, allowing us to focus more precisely on what we are writing while leaving out less relevant information.
Use pen and paper for tasks requiring your total focus.
3. It Slows You Down
Wait? Why would I want to slow down? I thought you said that writing by hand would help to increase my productivity.
My Mom used to love telling me when I was in a rush, “Go slower, so you can get there faster.”
Sometimes, productivity is about slowing down.
Writing with a pen and paper requires more mental energy and engages more areas of the brain than pressing keys on a computer keyboard.
Virginia Beringer, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, conducted a study that followed children in grades two through five. She showed that children who wrote by hand, instead of typing on a keyboard, were better at generating composition ideas. They also experienced greater neural activity in the areas associated with reading and writing.
Other studies show that learning cursive is also important. A 2015 study by Beringer suggests that learning cursive can lead to better spelling and composition skills beginning around the fourth grade.
Paper slows you down and forces you to think a little bit longer about what you are doing. This can encourage new thought processes and ideas, fostering creativity and deliberation.
In an article called “The Simple Joy of Writing by Hand,” Barbara Bash writes, “It is something about the physical act – the holding of the hand and pen that is meditative, bringing me into the present.”
Many creative essay writers, such as Quentin Tarantino, prefer handwriting over typing, in particular for the first draft of their works. They support the idea that writing by hand sparks creativity by allowing us to break free of predefined formats and layouts.
Handwriting can be particularly useful during goal setting and brainstorming sessions.
4. It Reinforces Your Commitment
A commitment refers to any action taken in the present that binds a person to a future course of action.
Writing your goals down on paper reinforces your commitment to that goal. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, performed a study on the science of goal setting.
In her study of over two hundred and sixty-seven people, she divided participants into groups, those who wrote down their goals and dreams and those who didn’t.
She concluded that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis. She also found out that your chances of succeeding go up even further when you share your written goals with a friend who believes in your ability to succeed.
The key here is sharing your goals with someone who believes.
Why does the simple act of writing down your goal increase your chances?
The answer lies in how our brains work.
If you just think about one of your goals or dreams, you’re only using the right hemisphere of your brain, which is your imaginative center. However, if you think about a goal and then write it down, you also tap into the power of your logic-based left hemisphere.
Just the act of writing down your dreams and goals ignites both parts of your brain driving ideas and productivity to the powerhouse of your subconscious mind.
If a goal or commitment is that important to you, take a moment and, “Put it on paper.”
Suggestion: When it comes to important commitments such as goal setting, write it down on paper.
I hope by now you are seeing significant advantages of using pen and paper. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating only using paper. I would recommend a hybrid of both paper and technology. Depending on what you are working on, electronic apps might be the better solution. I am only recommending that paper be part of your productivity toolbox.
Recommendations for using electronic apps:
- To-do lists or task management systems especially for recurring tasks
- Calendar App to manage your appointments and critical time-based tasks
- Online automation tools
- Some Google Chrome Extensions that simplify your processes
So, look for that great pen that you love to write with and start writing. Paper is a tool of creation, learning, and memorization.
Challenge: Pick one of the suggestions from above that you don’t already use paper for. Test it out for two weeks and let me know your thoughts.