Whether you’re in a meeting, or a training session, or a lecture trying to remember information, the most used method for retention is taking notes. And technology continues to present us with more and more options for note taking like computers, tablets, phones, watches, futuristic eye-glasses. But even as the technology grows more complex, it turns out none of these methods have created an advantage on good old-fashioned paper and pen (or pencil…or quill.)
In the last few years, there have been several studies of memory retention using a variety of different tools for note taking AND studies on how the presence of devices affects our interpersonal communication. It’s become a well-replicated finding that note-taking by hand comes out on top in almost all circumstances. In the workplace, there’s actually two solid reasons for taking notes by hand.
The first is that when we take notes by hand, it takes longer to write than the other person can speak. And that turns out to be a benefit. Because we can’t write by hand as fast another person can talk, we end up having to synthesize and summarize the information we just heard. And the research supports this. Just before we write it down, we have to process what the information means to us. When we’re typing on a computer (or for millennials and younger, when we’re typing on a phone), we can often go so fast that our notes end up as a near perfect transcription of what was said. But there was no processing involved in transcription. So, we end up retaining more in the short term when we take notes by hand, AND we also end up understanding more.
So not only do you retain more when you take notes by hand, but you have a better interaction with the people that you’re in that meeting or attending a lecture alongside. Ultimately, you have to find a system of note taking that works for you (pen or pencil; notebook or legal pad, etc). But the research strongly suggests that your search for the perfect tools should begin and end with handwritten notes.
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