go analog, the utility in writing by hand
11 October, 2021 - 7 min read
go analog, the utility in writing by hand
With our ever expanding set of tools ranging from recording zoom calls, to apple pencils, through the college mainstay of a laptop keyboard, what virtue would there be in going back in time to use a pen and paper?
well, I'll posit to you, there's a lot of good reason
In my previous post about the only business books you'll ever need, I espoused that one of the best lessons in business that one can have, comes from their own hand, with their present mind going back over their notes from years or months passed to remember what was going on, and reliving it with eyes set anew.
let me unpack this a bit
Rather than retype at considerable length in my own prose, I'll instead link this good synopsis by FastCompany that details the benefits of writing by hand.
It really boils down to these main points:
- you'll remember what you write better than any other means
- you'll learn new material faster
- it forces you to slow down, creating more care in each word, and in turn gives space to more creativity
some ways to employ it
Now one doesn't want to write everything down. It's laborious, tedious and just not needed. Instead, I thought I'd give the dear reader some of the ways I use it as a tool in the hopes of getting some inspiration along the way.
When in a meeting, whether it is me conducting research to learn a new business or industry, a design review, sales call, technical deep dive or any number of those time constrained calendar invites, the one thing I always have next to me is my notebook and pen.
As soon as an interesting bit that I want to remember comes up, I jot it down- right away! ( pro tip: when doing research, be timely when you do this, don't give away to a user or the like what you find interesting, wait until there's a way to mask the tell. Otherwise it can falsely change their perception, and your results.)
This could be any number of things, and to me I always keep my notes in an outline form. Helps me review them back, but I don't live or die by this.
Many of my notes are haphazard and all over the place, with lines, drawings, process flows all littering the pages. Truly, these type of exercises help down the line.
Probably the most useful thing to do while in meetings or even while you're conducting your own heads-down work, is to build a list of action items.
Simple, bulleted lists of what needs to be done, followed up on, etc, with people attached to it.
If the list is generated during a call, it's so very helpful to follow up at the end running through it, asking for feedback ( while kindly channeling all attempts to rehash a conversation to next time ) and also asking if there is anything you missed that can be added to the list.
If this is something you've generated on your own during some heads-down time, this would be a great thing to start a next meeting off with. I rarely come into a meeting without something like this, but that's for the next point.
These lists are most invaluable when sending out a post meeting email to the attendees detailing out the action items. These are indispensable artifacts to spot progress, problems or just as fodder for the next call.
Whenever I'm faced with working through a task, I have three things at my disposal every time.
- documents and resources needed
- whiteboard ( digital or my wall )
- goals / features / requirements / SOW to reference
Juxtaposing all of these as I lovingly bash my head against a wall trying to find a path forward, I scribble ideas, concepts, things I need to know more about or what I need to follow up with whomever on.
Unless it's needed right then at that moment to work me through, I wait and don't slack message people right off with my questions. Mostly I don't want to interrupt my flow, but also I want to wait until I'm at a more through point as more questions are likely to follow.
Something I've found incredibly helpful, is to detail out these questions in a message all at once, and encourage the individual to get back to me asynchronously, or just review before the next time we talk. I've alleviated many meetings this way, or allowed for myself or others to take a needed break.
I can't tell you how many times these scribbles have turned into lasting documents or needed information. From roadmaps to tech architecture, feature design through solutions flow, with everything from business processes to external strategy in between.
map the territory
Being in consulting, I'm in the grateful position of jumping in and out of industries, companies and projects. Which invariably means that I need to learn quick at the start, build on it, and if all goes to plan, finish early so I can use the rest of the time to improve before the clock runs out.
As a part of that, I use my handy dingbat as a means to map the territory I need to learn. From writing down names and titles to build a hierarchy of the company I'm working with, to getting a better sense of the industry or problem we're trying to solve.
I build up that knowledge through a series of notes, drawings and lines in my notebook. Frequently later transcribing them into artifacts to share with my team.
For those outside consulting, this could be a useful means for any number of things we need to learn. From entering a new role, being in charge of a new project, or just trying to engage in your current day to day in a new way.
the most important part
Building this as a daily, hourly, practice is the most important part. If you put in the time to really thoughtfully examine how you learn and how you remember things, then force yourself to use a notebook to push it along in the right direction, I'd be curious to see if it turns out to be anything other than helpful.
Use my ideas above as fodder, but really poke and prod your own habits, means of working, where you're good at or where you need improvement, and see how just keeping a log can help.
I'll tell you this much, I can't recall how many times keeping my log has helped me resolve conflicts, remember ideas, or just track my progress through my career.
Most recently, I was able to go up to my closet to get a notebook out from three years ago, to refresh my memory on the ongoings of a project in quite intimate detail. Just seeing my handwriting and re-remembering the events I scribbled out, I was suddenly able to remember whole facets of the project and events I previously didn't have access to.
This ended up helping me come up with many new ideas on how to solve a similar situation. But it's only a help, if you write it down ;)