A case for taking notes by hand

Things are getting pretty digital, in case you hadn’t realised. Maps, illustration, communication; almost everything we originally did in person or by hand can now be completed via a screen.

For the most part this evolution has happened for convenience, speed and efficiency. Meaning, for the most part this is all good progress.

However, there’s one task that really holds onto its value when done the old fashioned way: note taking.

Despite having a phone, iPad and laptop, I always take notes in paper form. And as it turns out, this is probably a good thing.

People who are pro-digital note taking might argue hand written notes are slow and result in double handling because most things need to be typed up anyway. However, it’s these perceived short comings with hand writing which are in fact why it is better for information processing and retention.

Because we can’t write to the speed someone is talking, our brains are more selective. We only take notes that are important. What tends to happen with people who are typing notes is they will write everything they hear because they have the ability to keep up. And while having verbatim notes may seem handy, the lack of true listening done when taking them means we’ve processed very little information properly.

Over time we even develop our own language via shorthand and symbols such as asterisks and arrows. Because these symbols effectively mean we are thinking in a visual bi-lingual manner (yes, that’s a thing) our brains are extra fired up which in turn feeds our ability to be acutely selective with what we jot down. Clever cycle, that.

When it comes to the point of doubling up if notes need to be made digital, the logical theory of repetition reinforcement comes into play. The simple act of going back to what we’d said, processing the points and re-articulating them increases our understanding and long term recall of the topic. Basically, it’s like study.

Note taking by hand may seem old fashioned but there’s certainly a case for it over a screen, at least from time to time. If the information we are taking in warrants actually being remembered, then the time it takes to go by hand pays back pretty quickly.

There’s also something just a bit charming about someone who carries around a notebook, which is obviously not the centre focus, but still scores a few points.

And while some may still fight from the digital corner, there’s no doubt that furiously scribbling something off your to do list once it is finally complete is far more cathartic than simply deleting a line.

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