Do Not Fear the Pen

Most of us feel as though we are always extremely busy.  The amount of information we deal with and  activities we need to complete can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that need to be done. Although managing priorities and staying effective and productive may seem more challenging than ever, its not a new issue.

Recently, we reviewed data from participant worksheets which were completed before beginning one of our management training programs. In over 75% of the cases, managers indicated that their number one challenge was managing their priorities, getting everything done, and time management. There was a common feeling of being overwhelmed, and not having enough time in the day to complete everything they needed to do. The most interesting fact about this set of data was that it was gathered in the year 1995. Almost a quarter of a century ago the personal productivity issues were the same as they are today!

Much has changed in the world since then. In 1995, E-Bay and Yahoo were founded, Toy Story was the first ever wholly computer-generated film, the DVD format was introduced, and the Dow closed above 5000 for the first time ever. Since then, there have been significant technological advances in many areas, including the attempt to digitize priority management systems. Despite these efforts, none have been able to eclipse the power and efficiency of simply writing things down with pen and paper.

A client once told me, “Your mind is for thinking, your pen is for remembering.” This idea is supported through a neuroscientific concept called the “generation effect.” The generation effect refers to the fact that you will remember something better if you are involved in its creation. It becomes “encoded” in your mind and allows you to directly access it when needed, rather than scanning the landscape of your brain trying to find it. The writing process engages you through a cognitive system involving neuro-sensory experiences and fine motor skills demonstrated by:

  • the texture of the writing surface and the feel of your hand against it
  • the weight of the pen and the way you hold it
  • the precise movement of the writing itself as your thought directs its creation

These actions involve creativity and help you process information, leading to the encoding that helps you remember the information. Writing down the types of things you need to accomplish on To-Do lists, deciding on your priorities, reviewing and updating your calendar and schedules to best structure your time, and spending time on determining and setting the goals most important to you will help crystalize your thinking and keep you on track.

Although the outside world has changed significantly in 24 years, our brains have not evolved much in the last few hundred years. The power of writing aligns more closely with how we operate as humans, regardless of what’s happened in our environment. If you’ve felt that you haven’t found the right technology for planning your work and executing your goals, it may be because it’s not as good as the tried and true process of writing things down. It’s not a matter of new or old technology but using the tools that best fit the situation. And, the data indicates that there is a greater fit to the human mind for writing than many of the digital processing methods available today. So, don’t fear your pen or being pegged as being “old school.” Instead, just realize that pen may still simply be the right tool for the job.

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