Leave Your Laptop at Home: Taking Notes by Hand Is Better

Even though computers may make note-taking more efficient, you'll get far more value from notes you write by hand. Here's why.

Stever Robbins,
June 9, 2014
Episode #317

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I’ve also heard speculation that because handwriting is slow, it forces the note-taker to prioritize the information on the fly and record only the most important points. If this is true, it means that the note-taker is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the importance of what they’re hearing. That kind of reflection is known to greatly enhance learning.

Paper Doesn’t Generate Interruptions

Another advantage of paper over laptops is that there are no distractions with paper. Laptops always have games beckoning. Or web browsers. Or social media. Or other notes you want to review from other classes. And laptops want you to notice them. They ding, beep, notify, pop-up, and remind you…all of which interrupt your train of thought.

With paper, you have a page. And your hand. And words. And that’s it. No “You have mail!” notifications. No cat pictures. Not even a poorly-lit, puke green picture of the omelette your best friend cooked last night and couldn’t wait to share on Facebook. Nope. Paper has none of that. Paper has a clean, pristine surface, plus your awesome notes. Everything relates to focus and learning.

Use Your Smartphone to Back Up Your Notes

I know what you're going to say: “But if I take notes on paper, I might lose the paper!!”

You might, and that would be awful! I mean, where would civilization be if people had spent centuries expending the Herculean effort to put their notebooks in their book bags on a regular basis? (That’s sarcasm.)

If you can figure out how to carry a laptop and a $400 smart phone around, you can figure out how to keep track of a notebook you use to take notes. And by the way, if someone steals the laptop or smartphone, you probably won’t get it back. Write your name, email address, and “REWARD $100 IF FOUND” inside your notebook and if you lose it, someone will probably return it.

Knowing all that is comforting. Unless you’re me. I stay up at night, worrying that I might lose my beautiful Moleskine notebook, filled with pages and pages of important notes. So I use my $400 smartphone to create a backup of my paper notes. Every few days, I pull out my notebook and use my smartphone to take a quick snapshot of the new pages of notes I’ve added. Those get automagically uploaded to the Cloud, providing a safe backup for my notes. Plus this makes it easy for the NSA to see what I’ve been learning without having to kidnap me late at night and hold me in a secret court. Bonus!

Experiment with Lined or Unlined Pages

I’ve found from experience that focus and learning also depend on the kind of paper layout I’m using. For client notes, I use an unlined notebook that lets me be creative and visual and non-linear. For to-do lists and notes on highly structured topics, I use the square-ruled Moleskine notebook. I don’t know why, but the square rules help me get into analysis mode, while the unlined pages help me get into highly creative mode.

Whether I’m using a lined or unlined notebook, I always save the first few pages for a table of contents, as described in the episode How to Manage Your Task Lists on Paper.

Whether you’re taking notes during a meeting or during a lecture, don’t bother going to the trouble unless you’ll actually get benefit from those notes. Put away the laptop, and take your notes longhand. Use a pen and paper that feel good in your hand, and enhance your notes with drawings, arrows, little stars, or whatever works for you. Try both lined and unlined paper to find out which works best with your brain. Once you’ve taken longhand notes, use your smartphone to capture them and back them up in the cloud, so you can get them back if you ever lose your paper notebook.

This is Stever Robbins. I help high achievers change careers and grow their businesses. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!



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