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Looking for ways to be more productive and focused, or just want to improve your memory? Then you’re in the right place! We’ve found a simple solution to help you achieve these things, and the good news is that all you have to do is keep doing one thing you’ve already done before. In fact, you’re more than likely still doing it—and that’s writing!
There are countless research studies that prove the benefits of longhand writing, and a lot of people have seen the positive effects themselves. Why else would the journaling community be thriving, notebooks and all, in this day and age of smartphone apps and reliable computers? It’s because nothing can beat the experience of manually writing things down on paper.
In today’s article, we want to look at exactly what happens when we utilize paper and pen to write down our thoughts, ideas, schedules, and just about anything else—and how it’s helping us with productivity, focus, and better memory.
Often, we blame our lack of productivity—and the difficulty we face when focusing on certain things—on our tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. And while these two factors affect output, whether in school, at work, or while working on personal projects, something else that contributes to them is how we interact with our environment, consume certain information, and go about doing things.
Unfortunately, nowadays, our brain no longer gets as much stimulation as it used to, or else is overwhelmed with it: we’re not as engaged with the real world since most of us are usually in the virtual one, and a study suggests that this can result in cognitive decline that can affect attentional capacity.
Writing however, can re-engage us: the action of writing itself and the functions associated with it—the movement of the hand as it writes every letter, the visual aspect as we watch the characters forming, the thought process involved to write something meaningful—help with what is called encoding.
This is where information is sent to the hippocampus where it’s either stored for the long-term or discarded altogether. When we’re in encoding mode, which the complex functions involved with writing help activate, our brain cells fire at one another and communicate, so even though it’s easy to type things down on a laptop or smartphone, nothing stimulates our brain better than good old longhand writing.
But what about focus? Aside from a piece of paper lacking any notification capability to veer you off track, writing down things like to-do lists or your goals can free up mental space so that you’re not thinking of several things all at the same time. This makes you more capable of turning your focus on what is important at a given point in time. You’re then more efficient because you’re not attempting to remember a lot and all at once. You already have them written down and can easily let them go for the meantime.
The act of writing can also help you with “higher level thinking”: without a hundred different things running in your head, the list that contains what you really need to focus on “now” shortens until there’s only one thing left to pay attention to. In a way, you’ve eliminated distractions and turned them into items that you can focus on, one a time, later on. Still think your focus needs more work? Here are five other things to consider.
In school, we’re encouraged to write notes a lot, and by hand. But times have changed: educational institutions have embraced the digital age like everyone else, and in universities, it’s not uncommon to see students taking down notes using electronic devices. According to a study cited by Psychology Today however, writing on paper “still reigns supreme” because of how it activates multiple parts of the brain correlated with encoding, which ultimately helps with better recall.
In said study, participants were asked to fill out a calendar with a schedule meant for a whole semester. Not only did the note-taking group fill out their calendar quicker compared to the tablet and smartphone ones—an hour later, when they were asked for details related to their calendar and the schedule they created while in a working MRI, scans revealed that they had significantly higher brain activity.
Another study cited by Scientific American suggests the same result for writing by hand: the different cognitive processes that we go through thanks to longhand plays a part in how we retain information. In the study, students were divided into two groups: one took notes with their laptops, and the other by writing them down on paper. The students who took notes via laptop had more notes, yes, but the note-taking group “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material”. The explanation behind this is simple: because it’s virtually impossible to write down everything during a lecture, our brain is forced to process what we’re listening to, digest it, and then summarize the information so that we can capture the most important details.
As a result? We give our minds more of a challenge, and the effort of comprehension reinforces learning and helps with retention.
For easy note-taking, add the Ruled refill to your Field Journal, which also allows you to keep extra refills—this means that for your schedule, you can have a separate Planner refill too.
There are certainly instances where it’s easier and far more efficient to turn to digital means when it comes to writing things down. This doesn’t mean we should let go of writing by hand with the many advantages it offers. Striking a balance is key: both have their pros and cons, and it’s a matter of making the most out of digital writing and longhand when it benefits us the most.
What else has writing by hand helped you with? Do you prefer doing it on paper or have you gone full digital? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear what you think!