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Drafting out your work on paper can facilitate your thinking and improve your work. Business Optimizer looks at why – and how.

The evidence is clear: working with paper can boost focus, understanding, memory, and creativity.

Improved Focus

The technological distractions and digital interruptions of your laptop are inherently focus-draining. We know that monotasking can help with productivity, so ditching the laptop in favor of paper notetaking can help with improved focus and productivity.

Improved Understanding

When a group of kindergarten students was divided into two subgroups – one handwriting, one using keyboards – the handwriting group outperformed their peers not only in writing exercises but in reading too.

Writing for the Guardian, Tom Chatfield makes the point that “identifying the special species of physical objects known as letters and words, uses much the same neural circuits as we use to identify trees, cars, animals and telephone boxes.

Texts themselves, so far as our brains are concerned, are physical landscapes. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we respond differently to words printed on a page compared to words appearing on a screen; or that the key to understanding these differences lies in the geography of words in the world.”

Improved Memory

This builds on findings from researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles. Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer found that students who had taken handwritten notes on paper outperformed their computer-notetaking contemporaries. They argue the action of summarising and writing notes on paper improves learning and retention.

Mueller and Oppenheimer’s work illustrates how the very limitations of pen and paper are exactly what makes it so effective. Because handwritten notes can’t be taken down as rapidly as typed notes, paper notetakers are forced to process the information more critically at the time of writing – in order to summarize the information effectively.

This leads to a higher sense of cognitive engagement – and this lies at the root of the improved subsequent recall say, Mueller and Oppenheimer.

Paper notetaking has a further benefit as an aid for memory: it allows for doodling. Research has shown that doodling while listening can help to ensure focus and, as a result, improved recall.

Improved Creativity

Michael Hyatt argues that notetaking also facilitates a more critical and creative approach. “Notetaking also captures in-the-moment insights, questions, and commitments. Not everything can be resolved immediately. Some ideas take incubation. Questions require further research. Commitments require follow-up that cannot be done until after the meeting. Without a way to capture these, they’ll just get lost.”

What’s more, a study by the London School of Economics found that writing by hand is more strongly linked to emotion processing than taking notes on a computer. As a result, writing by hand enables the notetaker to develop a more mindful and creative frame of mind.

Is it time you ditched the laptop and picked up a pen instead?