Improve productivity by writing your notes and not typing them

I have a secret. A grossly underestimated secret.

It isn’t a hush-hush type of thing, really. It’s actually a well-known phenomenon that researchers are still trying to figure out.

It’s this: I learn better by actually physically writing down notes and lists than by typing them up.

battle of notes

Truthfully, many a fellow student and co-worker has no idea that typing up notes and such actually decrease their overall productivity and retention rates. A while back, I tried to go fully digital, but that kind of relationship with my e-devices broke down real quick. You see, I’d dutifully type up my notes to remember them better and make them more portable, but then I would completely and utterly forget that I’d made them in the first place.

Which defeats the purpose, I know.

So why is it that the traditional way of writing trumps the digital process? The answer is simple and somewhat full of common sense reasoning: your ability to learn and later recall information is related to your level of cerebral engagement at the moment of learning. Or, in other words, the better your brain pays attention, the better you’ll remember the information afterwards.

The idea truly isn’t that novel, if you think about it. Scientists have known for over 20 years that intense emotions cause your brain to better record an event for later playback. Your amygdala–in this case–activates more strongly in reaction to stimuli that involve the nervous system. In a similar manner, multiple studies indicate that physically writing with a pen engages the brain in a way that results in better memory recall. How can event-specific emotion-recall be related to physical writing and memory, you ask? Look at it this way: when you touch a pen or pencil, you’re involvingĀ  countless muscles and nerves in your hand, arm, etc. Physical writing requires more body concentration that merely picking out a key on a keyboard and pushing it down. Indeed, according to these guys, “as we write, we create spatial relations between the various bits of information we are recording…and the act of linking verbal information with the spatial relationship seems to filter out the less important information.” Which is to say, writing forces you to concentrate more on the relevant facts or information, thus enabling you to better deal with it or remember it later on.

Writing by hand versus typing with a keyboard also boasts additional benefits beyond the ability to concentrate.


But what if you really, really hate carting around a notebook and always have your tablet or smartphone stuck to your hand anyways?

There are several options out there just for you. Of course, you could go the traditional route and use a stylus. You can also go and buy the Livescribe pen, which records a digital copy of all your notes and also records audio. This new Moleskine Livescribe notebook combines digital technology with old-school note-taking, allowing you to automatically back up your notes and sketches to the Livescribe + app for later perusal. Also, if you have an iPad, the Notability app is a useful tool, allowing you to combine digital information with stylus-written notes. Android users might appreciate Papyrus to take notes by stylus, too.

What do you use for note-taking? Do you think handwriting still has a place in our fast-digitizing world?