Using the Analog to Grasp the Digital

- 2 min -
Joe Buhlig

I’m guilty of looking for ways to accomplish tasks on the computer long before it crosses my mind to try paper or the whiteboard. It’s almost embarrassing sometimes. The idea of going to a notepad as a first instinct is hard for me to grasp.

I’m slowly growing fond of pen and paper. I’ve written meeting notes on paper for a long time but it’s only been the last few months that I’ve really embraced the value of writing daily schedules and brainstorming sessions on a notepad. And for someone so devoted to digital tools I must confess that the results have baffled me.

Mike Schmitz and I talked about this on the podcast recently. Because physically writing something down engages more of your body and requires you to use more of your self to get the idea out of your mind, you have more memory indicators created in your brain. In turn, it leaves you with more connections made and more ability to recall the thing you wrote down. In other words, writing it on paper helps you remember more than typing it into a computer.

When I started writing out a daily plan on paper I found that I didn’t need to reference the paper nearly as often as I used to reference my digital calendar. I was able to move from one task to the next with little or no transition cost. I knew what the next step of my day was without needing to look at the paper.

After doing this for the better side of a month I went back to using my digital calendar with no loss of results over the paper version. The experience of writing it down with pen and paper solidified the rationale and nuances of the process. It showed me the importance of deciding where the minutes of my day will go and the repetitiveness of my real schedule began to come through. It was only after I developed the memory through handwriting the daily schedule that I was able to best utilize the digital calendar and understand the cycles I naturally fall into.

And that proved to have great value. Developing an awareness of how you work is the best way to create truly productive systems. But it turns out that once I went back to the digital calendar, the side effects of relying on calendar alerts and the use of repeating events aren’t worth the move back to digital. I can now understand how to set up my digital calendar in more detail. But doing so and using it leaves me with symptoms I’d rather not have. So I’m back on the paper for my daily schedule.

The time it takes to write it out by hand and think it through in detail every day develops a memory that I can use throughout the day and relieves me of the robotic nature of recurring events that aren’t regularly kept in check.