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Ditch Digital Notes for a More Productive Work Day

Ditch Digital Notes for a More Productive Work Day

What does ‘note taking’ look like in the 21st Century? It may not be a question you regularly ask yourself, but when presented with it your mind will probably turn quite quickly to the numerous ways in which we can plan, sketch, scribble and notate in the modern world. We have laptops, tablets, phones, electronic stylus’ and various other devices at our disposal, all of which are built to make the act of transcription easier, more efficient and more productive. With that in mind, you would think that the majority of us use these technologies as our primary ‘note taking’ resources, wouldn’t you?

As it turns out, despite relatively universal access to all of these things, most of us prefer Old Reliable; the paper and pen. In fact, in a recent survey by online retailer, My Own Stationary, it turns out that just over 80% would choose a notebook over a digital notation platform every time.

Devices and their relevant programs are designed for the very purpose of note taking and have numerous helpful applications. The ‘pro-device’ participants in the study revealed a number of reasons for their preference; most, 30% in fact, used them because they found typing to be quicker than writing. Some found that it was easier to read when returning to their notes and some required the use of other applications during their note taking. All are good reasons to use these technologies. So, why don’t we favor these devices? Well, it isn’t just nostalgia (although that is part of the reason for some), there are many conscious and subconscious reasons why we generally favor the pen over the keyboard. Overall, experience and research show us that traditional note taking is a much more effective and productive medium. Let’s look at some of the more specific advantages of the pen and paper method…

Neurological Engagement

The study also tells us some of the reasons traditional note takers tend to transcribe in this way. 23% of these people hailed enhanced engagement with their notated content as their primary option for scribing with pen and paper. Around 20% said that they found their notes easier to remember when writing in this way. These reasons point directly towards better neurological engagement with their material. Writing with pen and paper is considerably more engaging, neurologically speaking, than typing through a device. There is a certain ‘disconnect’ with notation through electronic mediums, it can become quite a vacant exercise. Traditional notation uses a variety of senses and therefore requires your head to work a little harder; engaging the learning center within your brain and helping to exercise your neurological function. A stronger brain that is used to engaging in and retaining information is important for your own productivity and ability to work efficiently.


The pen and paper benefit from their own simplicity. It is this simplicity that gives the medium its flexibility. You can write, bullet point, sketch, design, diagram and highlight all on the same page. Although this may be possible on some programs, this generally requires formatting, and the process of inserting graphics or highlighting, for example, is often clunky and time consuming. Most programs, however, do not house all of these functions, meaning that you may need multiple windows open in order to notate your meeting or subject effectively. In this way, traditional note taking is quicker and considerably more effective.


A piece of paper has no Wi-Fi connected to it, no social media, no notifications, no e-mails and no pop-ups. A blank piece of paper is as ‘non-distracting’ a notation platform as you can get. Most of us are guilty of losing substantial chunks of time to these distractions, which impacts our productivity significantly. Willpower is all very well, but willpower is not needed when there is nothing for it to overcome!


If you are giving a speech, running a meeting, notating on the move or in need of a quick transcription solution, a notebook is a great deal more convenient and reliable than a laptop. Their convenience and portability create a much more elegant solution to the need for handheld notation.

Shorthand and Selectiveness

Writing with a pen is slower than typing on a keyboard, this is true. However, speed does not necessarily equal quality. Something that goes hand in hand with the speed of transcribing with a keyboard is a sense of vacancy. One study shows that keyboard note takers are often typing so rapidly that they end up transcribing pretty much verbatim. This shows a number of things; they are more focused on notating the content than actually thinking about what is being said, they are not abbreviating, and they are not being selective. Around 95% of traditional note takers said that they completely understood their notes when returning to them, this compares to 85% of device users. This is because, not only have the pen and paper people engaged with the actual subject and not the note taking itself, they already have a good understanding and connection with the notated content. They have also selected relevant information, giving them a much more concise documentation of the talk or meeting.

As we become increasingly tethered to our digital devices, traditional note taking is overlooked all too often.  No matter what your note taking default might be, there is something inherently satisfying about connecting pen to paper.  The next time you need to take notes, drop the device and dust off the old notebook, you’ll be glad you did!



This is a guest post by Laura McLoughlin.  She writes for My Own Stationery, a leading personalized stationery e-seller based in Northern Ireland. At over 100 years old, they have considerable manufacturing experience in the making of paper stationery products, and are dedicated to eco-friendly production with Swan label, FSC and PEFC certification.

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