By Kevin Meyer
I’m an early adopter tech geek at heart, and generally am among the first to embrace a new technology. I may not go to the extreme of standing in line for a new iPhone, but I will pay to upgrade to the latest model even when I have difficulty describing the changes, let alone increased value, from the previous model. I’ll admit I was even once an owner of an Apple Newton. Remember the summer of 1993? Probably not.
I’ve tried electronic planners and journals, but they just don’t work for me. Instead of having to open my iPad, turn it on, select the right app, and then start writing in a somewhat clumsy manner, I just open my Moleskine and start scribbling.
Each morning before I start work I write down my top three tasks for the day and I take a moment to record some gratitude – it’s amazing how that creates focus and changes your perspective and outlook. During the day I’ll take notes on calls, ideas, and to-do’s. And at the end of the day I’ll review – hansei – my top three to see if I accomplished what I set out to do, and if not then why not and how I’ll improve. I’ll record any final thoughts, which at my age is starting to be a necessity so the next morning I’ll remember where I left off.
Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool – Robin Sharma also talks about the power of journaling in this video. But there’s another aspect of journaling that gives it power: handwriting it vs typing. Mark Gavoor dug into this as well.
Yet, there is something more intimate and old school about hand writing. It is a different mind, eye, hand, pen, and paper interaction and interface than the mind, eye, finger, keyboard, and screen interaction and interface.
This is also why I regularly harp on the advantages of scribbling on whiteboards over typing into “the machine” and then coercing that data onto reports or electronic displays. When you write a production number, metric, or problem on a white board you own that number, you visually see the relationship between it and the numbers next to it, you recognize patterns and trends, and you may have to even explain it to peers standing around you. Action can be taken immediately to change an unfavorable situation.
Typing into a computer? Not so much. Somehow that data is mysteriously transformed into other numbers and analyses that you may see a week or even month later and the linkage, understanding, and ownership of that relationship is lost. You end up with a bunch of folks trained to feed the machine, and a different bunch of folks trained to supposedly interpret what the machine spits out. The problem – and opportunity – is obvious.
The psychology behind the learning advantage of handwriting is starting to be understood. Last week Carol Holstead wrote about an experiment where she banned laptops from her college lectures, instead requiring students to take notes by hand.
I use PowerPoint in my visual-communication course but only to outline the lecture and show examples of designs. I told students they would need to listen to what I said about each slide and selectively write down the important points. I said I believed they would remember more of my lectures by taking notes on paper.
It turned out my theory was right and now is supported by research. A study published last year in Psychological Science showed that students who write out notes longhand remember conceptual information better than those who take notes on a computer.
From that study,
The researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, wanted to learn if students could recall more factual and conceptual information from notes taken longhand or from those typed on a laptop. Mueller and Oppenheimer did a series of studies using 327 students on three campuses.
Students tested right after a lecture tended to answer factual questions equally well regardless of how they took notes, but students who handwrote their notes did consistently better on conceptual questions. What’s more, when students were tested again a week later, the longhand note takers performed consistently better on both factual and conceptual questions.
There’s more detail on that and similar studies at Science Daily.
Yes there are downsides. Handwriting is hard to search, repurpose, share, and archive. Whiteboards are great, but difficult across multiple sites and complex (perhaps unnecessarily complex?) operations. If I had a dime for every process I’ve come across that was supposedly too complex for a simple whiteboard and required a high-powered MRP system, where a little lean simplified the process to where a whiteboard was more than sufficient…
Is the purpose to record data and observations, or to learn?
The process of writing by hand creates understanding, ownership, reflection, and thus learning.
Write it, don’t type it. You might be surprised with what happens.