The Power Of The Pen

You’ve probably noticed how almost everyone takes meeting notes on laptops or tablets. Almost everyone, because some people, including me, have noticed that it’s a lousy way to get the most out of the meeting and retain what happened.

There is a growing body of research showing that you learn and retain less when you use laptops or tablets than when you use pen and paper.

Professors at Princeton and UCLA have used their favorite lab rats, students, to show through standardized tests that those who used laptops during lectures had a substantially worse understanding of the material.

The same result was reached through research done at West Point using the military’s favorite lab rats, cadets.

And I’ve conducted some anecdotal research of my own, using my favorite lab rats, those who wind up in meetings with me where I too am a participant, not a leader. I’ve observed another result of using electronic gadgets during meetings. Instead of watching other people when they talk and noticing the non-verbal cues they’re continuously giving out, the listeners are focused on making sure their fingers hit the right keys. I estimate that half the messaging going on is completely missed.

I’m referring to the people who are actually taking notes. Not the people reading email or surfing the web during meetings, who are surely missing almost all of what’s going on. I admit that I find it amusing to call on these folks for their input or opinion, and watch their expressions of dismay when they realize they have no idea how to respond.

I give great credit to Gino Wickman, developer of EOS, (Entrepreneurial Operating System), for having the nerve to make the rule that there can be no electronics during EOS implementation sessions. (As some of you know, I am one of his early EOS Implementers so perhaps I’m a bit biased here.) Imagine the horror of many in the room when they realize I’m serious when I tell them they must put away their electronic gadgets until the session is over.

Why is using pen and paper the better way? The action of moving hand and arm, the mental process of, in real time, picking out the important ideas to write down, and the ability to pay full attention to what is being said–both verbally and non-verbally–all lead to greater understanding and retention of what is being discussed. And more succinct notes focused on the salient issues.

I have made a few more important observations about the results of using pen and paper instead of laptops to take notes. The discussion is more energetic. The level of interaction is more productive. The results are more creative.

So pick up a pack of legal pads or a journal and find a nice pen for yourself during your holiday shopping. Pack them in your work bag every day. Use them when you need to take some notes. Make your own observations about how much more involved you are in meetings, how much you retain, your energy and creativity levels. You just might find you have a whole new perspective on what can result when you’re totally engaged in what’s going on in front of you rather than dealing with typing notes, or checking email, or surfing the internet.


Commenting area

  1. I also find it useful to use paper and pen when meeting with anyone. If I take notes on a laptop while we’re talking, it can be disruptive. A tablet is smaller, but inevitably there’s some computer maintenance or notification that must be addressed. A small notebook is less intimidating, takes up less space, allows for freer notes, and the person I’m meeting with knows that I’m not live tweeting our conversation. The meeting becomes much more personal, which is helpful when consulting – at least for me.

  2. Thanks for offering more ways that pen and paper are better than laptops or tablets. Too often we forget that technology isn’t always the best for everything.

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