Adiós Laptop: The Power of Pencil and Paper

PENCall me old school but sometimes I like to get away from my computer screen and work with a pencil or a pen and some paper.

In fact, I think humans create some of their best ideas when they work in this way as opposed to working within the rigid confines of a word document on a computer.

When I was studying at law school, I noticed the majority of students would take notes and brainstorm on their laptops. So you can probably imagine some of the weird looks I’d get as I churned out colourful mind maps in my lectures!

People would come up to me and say condescendingly “Oh, those look cute!” or “Oh! Look at the pretty colours!”. It didn’t bother me though as I knew I’d have the last laugh. I knew typing notes on a laptop was not going to help me to learn the content at a deep level. But crazy little pictures and colours would make a difference.

That was 5 years ago. Now it seems that the majority of high school students (not just university students) are using their laptops for pretty much everything when it comes to learning.

This is the digital revolution after all, right?

I’m not so sure I like this so called revolution. Let me explain why.

When we abandon pens and paper for our computers, are we losing something? Do we actually do our best work on the computer? Is it even good for our brains?

In terms of generating creative ideas and starting a project, I don’t think laptops and computers are our best friends.

As Austin Kleon states in his great little book Steal like an artist

“The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us – we start editing ideas before we have them”.

In relation to learning information, research tells us students who draw pictures when they learn information retain 30% more information than students who don’t draw pictures.

Here’s the thing – if you want to draw pictures when you learn information in class or a lecture, it comes down to speed. You need to be able to slap out your drawings.

Now try drawing pictures on your iPad or a tablet. Can you do it as fast as you could by hand? I don’t think so.

With a pen in your hand, you feel a sense of freedom that you just can’t quite get when using digital technologies. With pen and paper the possibilities and ideas you can generate are endless, and you don’t run the risk of hampering the creative process by being tempted to hit the delete key.

Austin Kleon recommends that we have two desks when we work – one desk for digital appliances such as your laptop and printer and another that is completely free of technology and has only pens, paper, index cards and sticky notes for you to have fun, play with ideas and create.

My technology free desk - a space to play and create!
My technology free desk – a space to play and create!

When working at your technology free desk, Austin suggests –

“pretend it’s craft time. Scribble on paper, cut it up, and tape the pieces back together. Stand up while you’re working. Pin things on the walls and look for patterns. Spread things around your space and sort through them”.

I recently took this idea on board and bought a second desk for my office for $5 from the local secondhand store.

My $5 digital desk
My $5 digital desk

I have to say the setup works really well. When I’m at my technology free desk I’m much more focused and productive.

If you’re in the habit of using your laptop to take notes, brainstorm and start projects, why not experiment and see what it’s like to use a pen and sheet of paper? You may just find that you’re pleasantly surprised.

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