Technology is awesome. With a smartphone in your pocket and a laptop on your desk, you only need to remember which programs you’re using as your external brain. While the bulk of those processes work well for me, I’m still a die-hard pen and paper addict. Here’s why.
Photo by Sebastien Wiertz.
It’s possible to over-hack your life, but this is less about finding where you’re over-engineering a solution to a simple problem, and instead more about sticking with something that works for you. For me, this is writing things down.
Writing Out Lists Embeds Them in Your Memory Better
We’ve talked before about how writing makes you learn things more effectively. I’ve adapted this approach for food shopping.
Essentially, I write out the week, write down the meals and ingredients, and then add any extra stuff I need from the supermarket. I do all this on the back of the ludicrously long receipt from last week’s visit so I have quick access to what I ate over the week (and I’m not wasting paper). Then I put the list in my pocket and go shopping. I never take the list back out. Once I’ve written them down, it solidifies in my memory and I’m done. I’ve tried a few different shopping apps, and I inevitably have to keep my phone in my hand while shopping because I can’t remember anything.
I use a similar approach for my to-do lists, but with a giant whiteboard in my office area. The list is then in front of my face all the time. I can’t get away from it. My main problem with latching onto any to-do list app is that I have to open it to see it. That’s a step I’d rather not take. I still use some apps, including Checkmark for location-based reminders, but for the most part my to-dos stare me down every single day until I wipe them off the whiteboard. Photo by Bunches and Bits.
You Get More “Room” To Explore
One of the main reasons I like pen and paper is that I can break a lot of rules when I’m writing stuff down. If I’m brainstorming an idea with a mind map or by just writing stuff down, I can fill in between the lines. I can link things together with circles and take up as much space as I want in whatever mish-mash of methods I choose.
This, obviously, isn’t something everyone needs to do. To be clear, I’ll do the same thing on an iPad in an app like Paper every once and a while, and I adore using the iPhone app Drafts when I’m on the go. But for me, coming up with ideas is a messy process, and computers get in the way. Computers want formatting, or at the very least, they want order. Sometimes it’s simpler for me to just barf out my brainspace onto a hard copy to get it in order first. Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy.
Handwriting Slows You Down
I can type a lot faster than I can legibly write, and because of that, I’m forced to slow down and actually pay attention to what I’m doing when I’m handwriting. Writing with pen and paper is faster for brain dumping ideas as sketches, but for actual words, it’s a lot slower.
As we’ve discussed before, slowing down is necessary sometimes. When you’re writing out something, the natural inclination is to do it as quickly as possible so you can get it over with. Paper slows me down and forces me to think a little bit longer about what I’m doing. It’s partially the semi-permanence of it, but it’s also the fact that when I’m distracted, I can’t just look on the internet — I have to sit there with the paper in front of me and force myself through the problem. Photo by makeshiftlove.
For me, pen and paper is easier. I’m certainly not an advocate for reverting to pen and paper on all occasions, nor do I think there’s anything inherently wrong with digital. The point is less that pen and paper is great, and more that, if your system is working — stop playing with it. Sure, try out a new app or piece of software if it fits a mould you’re looking for, but don’t go about arranging everything repeatedly to fit into another system just because it’s new.