How paper can improve and facilitate your work

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I t’s no secret that paper is a favorite of many successful entrepreneurs, but why? How can paper improve and facilitate your work as a business leader?

Richard Branson has been known to rue that fact he is often the only senior executive in a meeting with paper and a pen in front of him. But is it possible that his paper notetaking has had a significant role in his success?

Researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, have found evidence to suggest it might be. They say writing notes by hand can help to improve your understanding and learning.

Research by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer compared the performance of students who had taken notes on a TED lecture by hand to that of students who had watched the same lecture but taken notes on their laptop. All the students who had taken handwritten notes on paper outperformed their computer-notetaking contemporaries.

Improved learning and retention

Mueller and Oppenheimer argue that there is something about the action of summarizing and writing notes on paper that improves learning and retention.

Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research was inspired by a class for which Mueller was tasked with taking notes but for which she had forgotten her laptop. She told the Atlantic magazine, “I felt like I had gotten so much more out of the lecture that day… we both sort of had that intuition that there might be something different about writing stuff down.”

Taking notes on paper leaves notetakers free to participate in the discussion and truly engage, in a way you can’t when you’re sat behind a screen, whilst also taking better notes.

Taking paper notes isn’t only an advantage when it comes to learning and memorizing – it is also much better for your creativity.

Handwriting expert, Dr. Alison Keegan from the Progressive College of Further Education, says, “The act of putting pen to paper, forming raw thoughts and ideas is crucial for individual creativity. When writing freehand, thoughts that come flooding into the mind can be written down, scribbled out and corrected, showing the creative learning process on the blank white canvas.”

Keep a notebook handy

Keeping a notebook handy in which you can record inspirational ideas, quotes or other snippets is also a great way to boost creativity. Flicking back through these paper records of the little things that inspired you or spoke to you in some way can help to grow the germ of an idea into your next big business breakthrough.

By contrast, Keegan says, the regimented format of an electronic document can constrain and limit the creative process.

Writer Tom Chatfield also argues that “a screen’s unrivaled assets… are either unhelpful or downright destructive when it comes to certain kinds of reading and writing.” Instead, he argues, the friction involved with taking and reviewing paper notes ultimately leads to a more coherent argument.

Of course, for every successful entrepreneur, there is a place for pen and paper and for computers – they key to success is knowing when and where to use each. Computers are great when you are searching for information and as an editing and layout tool, but when it comes to engagement, learning, knowledge retention, and creativity, paper is best!