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Why I Still Carry a Notebook

… and I use it quite a bit. Actually, these days I’m carrying several. Personal projects, work notes, journal, shopping lists– each one lives in its own bound collection of dead trees. As someone who makes their living in the digital world, this may seem like an odd choice. However, there are plenty of benefits I’ve found from going down this road that more than make up for having to tote around an extra pound or two.

Better Data Retention

You’ll notice a common thread between all these notebooks, they are all personal and active. These are things I personally need to do (or think about). I have quite a few things competing for my time at any given time and only so much attention that I can afford to give each one. Therefore, when a thought pops into my head it is often necessary to get it out of my active attention while still remembering the piece of insight. Storing the information digitally does make it accessible again, but I’ve found that the act of physically writing things down helps me to remember it as well, and there is some research to back up my experience. In addition, because it gets stored in my own memory as well as on paper, I’m better able to shift my focus on to another project.

It Forces Me To Slow Down

This certainly isn’t true for everyone, but I can type much faster than I can write¬†although both are stored in muscle memory. This forces me to slow down while putting my thoughts on paper and allows me to think through a situation better. I think this is partially to do with my typing speed, but also is about that active process of writing that makes things easier to remember as well. It also might have to do with the fact that there is no simple “delete” button to change things after I write them down. I prefer the feel of writing with a¬†pen to pencil, so if I want to change something, I have to cross it out and rewrite it. I need to be more careful if I don’t want my page to be covered in scribbles, and the changes I do make are visible.

I’m Free To Organize How I Wish

Technically I could get something like OneNote or Evernote to format notes how I want, and I could get a stylus and write on a tablet (and the stylus option is tempting) but trying to get the formatting the way I want it with mouse and keyboard takes away focus from what I’m trying to write. My project notebook is filled with graph paper exactly so I can easily flow between lines of text, lists and diagrams and I can be as messy or as neat as I want. It just works without any fussing. If notes really need to outlive a particular notebook, and they rarely do, I can scan them in to my computer and create a digital copy.

No One Else Needs To See Them

These are my personal notes. I have a padfolio for client meetings, but what gets written on it is still just for me. If I am going to present something to a client, you better believe I’m going to type it up so I can send it to them digitally. In fact, I find that the process of typing up my notes is a great opportunity to reflect on the project or meeting and I often gain a lot of insight during this process that I wouldn’t have had I just copy and pasted something into an email and clicked “send.” Because I’m the only one who will read these notes, I’m free to use terminology that makes sense to me, rather than for a possibly non-technical audience.

Using a notebook in the digital era may seem archaic, but there are some serious advantages to doing so. While my smartphone might be evolving rapidly, how the human brain works is not, and I feel that using a pen and paper is a better tool for the job in many cases.

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