Every time I hop on a video call or sit down in person to meet with someone, they’re always surprised when I pop out pen and paper to take notes. In this day in age, and being the technologically savvy person that I am, I’m always asked why.
Writing helps ingrain information into our memory for better retention, but can also help with deeper comprehension. The scientific advantages are well documented. In one study, while those taking notes on a laptop did equally well with recalling facts, those that took notes with paper performed significantly better with conceptual questions. People mindlessly taking notes verbatim did not fare as well as those just trying to jot down ideas and the overall message.
Again, in another study subjects taking notes on laptops actually recalled more than hand-writers immediately after class, but they typically forgot everything just after 24 hours, and they found their notes less useful, as they tried to transcribe everything. Those that wrote their notes by hand recalled information even a week later and had a “better grip on concepts.”
Some physicians even recommend handwriting as a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers to stay sharp as they get older. As Michael Friedman, a researcher for the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, put it, “Note-taking is a pretty dynamic process…you are transforming what you hear in your mind.” Neurophysiologists have discovered that there is increased retention through the process of muscle memory. When writing, as we use the muscles in our hands to form each letter our brain receives feedback from our motor actions and gives us a sort of haptic feedback. Suffice it to say, this dramatically improves the learning process.
But many of us have meetings almost every day. Who needs those stacks of paper that add up and clutter your workspace? I deal with this by handwriting most of my important notes first, and then using OCR software to transfer it a Google doc or a text file to store it for long-term keeping. I usually review them one more time before converting them to digital notes, but once that’s done I can dispose of the written notes and save myself the clutter.
Don’t believe me? Try it! Next time you have a meeting, take notes by hand and try to limit your computer use. You’ll be much more engaged, think creatively, and recall what you spoke about long after the meeting.