Learning today is chaotic. There’s always a new app for note-taking, Smart pens, and the inspirational Moleskine.
To me, both digital and paper worlds are all one stream of productivity. I typically use pen and paper to brainstorm and mind map. I love the freedom of just quickly dumping thoughts on paper and then finding a web of connections between them.
Once I establish an understanding of the big picture I start to synthesize those ideas onto my computer where they get styled and formalized so that others can comprehend them.
I also love the feeling of feeling of crumpling up that piece of paper, assuming it’s loose leaf, and tossing it. Knowing that it’s permanently digitized is gratifying.
There are moments of course when time is running short and I’ll just snap a picture of my notes and import that image into Evernote. It always helps to see how visually I came to a solution anyway.
Those that intentionally resist change sometimes end up paying the price for sticking with the status quo. Consequently, they end up making their lives more inefficient and even more stressed.
As creators, we need to balance the use of both contemporary and traditional tools. To ignore one over the other puts us at a severe disadvantage.
For example, if we work with pen and paper we may struggle to visualize the end product. Software enables makers, helping them package concepts and making them feel real.
But if we use the computer exclusively, we’ll miss out on connecting the dots between diverse parts.
Sometimes writing longhand or typing is still not enough. Drawing ideas out helps facilitate and organize our thinking.
“Our writing instruments are also working on our thoughts.”
The pen ultimately instills control. We should try to brainstorm on paper first. Long-hand writing is about disfluency, where the speed of our thoughts paces one of our instruments. The result is a more balanced prose.
The computer is more useful for output. As soon as we have a sketch or rough draft on paper, we’ll finally be able to synthesize it on the computer and give it a digital reality.
The right mix of digital and analog tools makes us more productive and more creative.
We all love side projects. They get us going creatively.
Side projects are typically things we take on because we’re actually interested in them. We enjoy putting in the playful work.
This blog is a side project
Side projects don’t necessarily change the world, have a deadline, or require perfection. We can even build side projects in a weekend and ship them for others to see.
Side projects can be simple and fun, reinvigorating to us and inspiring to others.
Nevertheless, don’t take on a side project that doesn’t come naturally or that’s dreadful. Forcing passion crimps creativity.
The side project may lead to something else such as the next big idea, but this isn’t the point of taking them on. The side project is an exercise in doing, remixing and recasting stuff that already exists and freshening it up.
We should try to create something for everything we consume.
Paper is about control, allowing for manipulation of the hands, eyes, and pen. If you’ve ever had to send or read an important email, you should print out hard copies first.
We’re much better at reading and editing on paper rather than a computer screen, even if it’s retina. Words just make more sense on paper. Here are some other benefits of using paper:
Getting things done
Creating mind maps
Scanning email threads
I don’t know what I think until I try to write it down.
Paper is also better for thinking. Sure, there’s apps for mind mapping and note-taking but pen and blank paper allows you to make a final dump of all your big ideas and then reconnect them to see the big picture.
It’s difficult to think when information is scattered in computer folders, emails, and in different apps. If it’s important enough, it should make it on paper. Below is my own recommendation for balancing digital and print worlds:
Here’s a holistic digital/paper 5-step approach:
Start with a digital device for idea acquisition.
Snag the best thoughts and write them down on paper.
Connect the thoughts with hand-drawn mind maps and notes.
Return to writing application and begin writing what will be the final product.
Make printouts throughout the writing process and reread/edit so you don’t miss any details.
Children today are already skipping steps 2, 3, and 5 and completing everything from thinking, brainstorming, writing, and editing all on screen. On the whole, businesses still depend on pen and paper to conduct business.
While using less paper means saving trees and reduced clutter, it also makes people susceptible to more grammatical errors and missed connections. Pen and paper will remain useful until digital can mimic or make writing easier.