I’ve noticed lately that if I want to do some creative or thoughtful writing I default to a pen and paper. Usually a large blank sheet of paper that I can write, draw, doodle or otherwise deface. This is coming from the guy that first started using a word processor on an IBM 8088 in Word 2. Those heady days when my step-dad bought home a computer that warmed a room and seemed to dim the lights. Back in those school days I held a dream that my messy, misspelled (which is why it was messy, duh) hand writing would be consigned to the all consuming fire that took my school tie. In the future all communication would be via a keyboard.
So why didn’t this vision come true for me? Well for many it has and does. However I’ve spotted some definite downsides.
- I crave freedom. So much so it’s probably a core value. Screens and keyboards are just a little too constraining. Yes you can get tablets, laptops and PC’s with pen style drawing capabilities. They just don’t provide the same experience, I’ve tried a fair few.
- Putting a line through it. Yes sometimes I may not write it correctly first time, or the next (or ever). Putting a line through something is powerful. It allows you to see where you head was initially. It allows you to build on what you initially wrote. On a keyboard you just delete that wrong thought. How can you know you’ve improved upon it. I’d say a good 20% of every notebook I’ve scrawled into is crossed out lines.
- On the count of 10 draw. Pictures paint a thousand words, sometimes you need to doodle one in. Maybe I’ve got a photographic memory but doodling something that represents my thoughts at that time is much more powerful than some detailed description.
- Time to think. April 2014 Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer published some research findings that showed that pen and paper helped people remember things. The study involved 300 students from Princeton and the University of California. It suggested that those that took longhand notes with a pen and paper performed better when tested on the subject. Why? Well it seems that the act of writing forces the brain to interpret the concepts into the words and movements they require. Those with keyboards tend to just hit the keys for the words that are said.
- Look a shiny object. Yes the art of distraction can help the brain achieve a quiet state where things can become more clear. I’m convinced that doodling randomly and allowing the brain to calm helps creativity. It’s one of the reason people think more clearly in the shower or on the drive to work. The brain is distracted and they’re two short periods in the day that you can’t sabotage thought with a mobile phone (and it’s keyboard).
- It encourages listening. The problem with a keyboard and screen is everything else it does. We want these things to be multi functional however in this all empowering access to the world we become weak willed. It’s almost as if listening was a chore and your brain is helping you out by finding pointless alternatives to avoid that pain.
“I’ll just check that email, I know what they’re going to say here anyway.”
“Oh what’s the Slack notification, it might be important.”
“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow, should I wear a jumper or shorts?”
“What’s the next crazy act our prime minster/president has performed?”. Luckily this one fits nearly all countries now-a-days.
Well not a lot I’m afraid.
All I’d advise is this. Provide a paper and pen for those that find it powerful.
Look for reasons to activate the most underused feature of all laptops, that closing lid. Especially in meetings and when someone is trying to communicate with you.
Have a think about how you work best, just become a messy scribble works for me doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Most importantly be reflective, understand your values and why you do the things you do. If when it’s as simple as preferring a pen to a keyboard.
If you can only know one thing it should be yourself.
About the author:
Chris Davey is a personal and professional coach. Providing individuals the opportunity to understand themselves and their goals. He has years of experience in the software industry helping individuals, teams and organisations understand and achieve their missions. He is co-founder of the KeepAgile Meet-up group.
If you are interested in more information about coaching you can find it here. coaching.steelcurve.com
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