5 Reasons Why You Should Write Things Down by Hand

Hi everyone,

While January is filled with talk of goals, resolutions and words-of-the-year, I always find that my own wheels start turning in the spring.

Maybe it's the sunshine and sakura, but recently my mind has been buzzing. I always find it helps to "brain dump" when my thoughts become disorganized and use whatever tool I have at hand to store and organize those ideas. Sometimes it's in a note-taking app on my phone or scribbles on a napkin, but I always feel the most satisfied when I put pen to paper and write things down by hand.


Nostalgic charm aside, I'm a big believer in the power of writing things down and there's quite a bit of scientific evidence to convince me that the effort of carrying around a notebook is still worthwhile - even in the age of the cloud. Here's some background that might encourage you to grab a pen as well.


5 Great Reasons to Write Things Down


Writing by hand improves recall

Writing by hand wakes up a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS); with the primary function of helping you to filter information, in order to focus and process it more actively. This is critical to retention and understanding, as well as being able to apply that learning later on. Improvements in recall might be why it's easier to remember the contents of a shopping list that you scribbled by hand versus one created in an app on your phone.

Write things down for better organization and prioritization

It also improves our conceptual understanding, forcing us us to slow down and process information. Since most of us cannot write by hand nearly as quickly as we can type, we are forced to identify the key points and make decisions about what is most important. This "concept mapping" extends beyond classwork and helps us to organize ideas; prioritizing and summarizing more effectively.


Writing trains your ability to focus your attention

Taking things offline also helps to keep our attention focused. Even with the best of intentions, there is evidence that we may spend over 40% of our time multitasking when using a computer - especially with notifications from email, social media, etc. literally popping up and interrupting our screens - and even with incentives, we find it difficult to ignore these temptations. 

Use a pen and paper to more effectively achieve your goals

In addition to note taking, I'd recommend that you write out your goals by hand.

Throw open the windows and set a timer, then close your eyes. Do a brief visualization exercise and imagine what your life looks like in a few year's (or month's) time - Where are you? What are you doing? How do you feel? Jot down all of the details, then start writing down specific actions you can take to make your goals a reality. Identify the most critical steps and give yourself timeline to achieve them and regularly review your progress, remembering to take note of your achievements along the way.

Research has found that people who wrote out their goals achieved significantly more than those with unwritten goals - a 42% increase in goal achievement! The results were even higher when goals were shared, which is something to keep in mind as our next quarterly review cycle comes around; what do you want to achieve in the next three months? Why not share those goals with your manager and your team?


Jotting it down improves health and well-being

You may also see benefits from a written gratitude practice.

This concept is buzzy for a reason; numerous studies have found physiological and psychological benefits from listing out the things you are grateful for, including feeling happier. One review of the research explained that "gratitude is related to a variety of clinically relevant phenomena, including psychopathology (particularly depression), adaptive personality characteristics, positive social relationships, and physical health (particularly stress and sleep)."


Even if you only sit down once a week to write down five things that you are grateful for, you should see positive results. Give it a try in the mornings if you wake up feeling negative about the day ahead, or spend a few minutes in the evening if you're having trouble sleeping.


I'll tackle my mental spring cleaning with a fresh notebook and pen, listing out my goals, plans, and lingering to-dos, along with some wins and happy memories that I want to remember. As we gear up for a new quarter, maybe writing some of these things down will help you too?


Have a great weekend!