Working with Paper and Pens in a Digital Age

Why you might want to consider getting off the computer to ‘do real work’

I’m not sure how many of you have the same crutch-like dependency on technology as I do — to the point where it feels like I’m not ‘working’ unless I am sitting in front of a computer.

When I find myself having to be mobile, my most immediate concern is with finding a place with Wi-fi and equally important to me, is the availability of power sockets for me to plug into in case my battery runs dry.

I used to have an overwhelming concern over whether I might have enough juice in my battery to allow me to work when I need to whenever I am out of home or not in an office.

I buy coffee (sometimes chai tea, green tea or something with cinnamon) only because I am really buying the temporary use of space, their wi-fi and for being able to tap into their power supply when I need it.

I know, I probably don’t fit the bill of what cafes would expect as their ‘ideal customers’ — busy rich bankers who pop in just to grab a quick and expensive cup of coffee before heading back up to their offices. They would certainly make for better customers who add to the high turnover and frequency of consumption that would be healthier for any cafe’s bottom line.

Recently, I have decided to be a little less hung up about wi-fi, power sockets or even having my laptop with me. I even started taking the bold step of sometimes not bringing my laptop out with me when I’m heading out with the intent of doing work.

It feels strangely insecure at the start —

What if I need to send something to someone and I don’t have my computer to work off from?

What if I have a brilliant idea and I am unable to type them out on my computer?

Wouldn't it be ‘double work’ if I have to write down my thoughts and then type them out again later?

What if I lose my train of thought?

I can think faster than I write, I type faster than I write and I’d like to think that I type as fast as I think.

Wouldn't I be unnecessarily handicapping myself if I don’t bring out my laptop?

Would I even be doing real work or am I just pissing about?

The questions and doubts came quick and fast. Yet in the spirit of experimentation and rediscovery, I had decided to test if I was able to work in a mostly analog manner supplemented by just a Samsung 7 inch tablet for the occasional social media distraction and as a tool for research.

I remembered a friend citing a fact from some research about how we process our thoughts better when we are physically engaged in the act of writing them down as opposed to just typing them out.

That was sufficient enough an assurance to get me started on my experiment — hearsay. If it’s online, it must be true eh?

I love how I can substantiate any point I want to make simply by searching for the phrases I want backed up.

So I tried doing that for a few times, and one of those things I did was to process the thoughts, ideas and examples I wanted to use for an upcoming speech.

It took me quite a few pages and it looked like some crazy person with really bad handwriting had decided to destroy a perfectly pristine clean page with garish strokes of ink.

BUT, I was able to organize my thoughts, I remembered what I wanted to say for each and every point, I tried drawing my own slides and taking pictures of them to be displayed digitally via Powerpoint — but eventually decided to do ‘proper slides’ because creating them in analog mode (by hand) would require me to create what would essentially become works of art that would be far too time consuming to be impressive or just unimpressive if insufficient time is dedicated towards crafting by hand.

So what I learnt from the personal experience was that:

Writing is a great way to organize the thoughts I had and it was definitely very helpful in helping me remember them afterwards when I had to recall them for my speech.

My slides were easier to make when I eventually opened up my laptop to start making them. Having sketched them out in some ways beforehand and having gone through the process of organizing my thoughts on paper, getting the slides out was just a straight forward process of translation / production.

I did not have to waste time figuring out what to do or what to put in those slides as I was making them. I knew what I was going to do and was much faster in getting them done (even though it was last minute in the wee hours of the night before my speech).

Encouraged by the improvements in my workflow and also feeling better about myself as this revelation helped to unchain me from the fixation of having to sit in front of a computer in order to ‘feel productive’ or‘look productive’, I knew that I was getting a lot more done by allowing myself the time, space and means to process, organize, create and articulate the thoughts i had through the non-digital method of using pen and paper before using digital means to produce the desired outcome or output.

I now make sure that I travel with a sketch book and different colored pens wherever I go and the added bonus of doing so is that you can work even when you are on plane rides and no-one will ask you to ‘shut your device’ during take-off, taxi or landing.

Don’t just take my word for it, experiment with it for yourself and see if it is helpful for you in certain aspects of your work if you were to start working on them in analog fashion before employing digital means to complete it.

If you find the process helpful to you in gaining greater clarity and organization in your thoughts and in their application, perhaps it is time to invest in a basic set of sketchbooks and pens too!

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