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Here’s Why You Should Take Notes By Hand (Instead Of With A Laptop)

Here’s Why You Should Take Notes By Hand (Instead Of With A Laptop)

If you walk into any lecture these days, you see a majority of students staring at their screens. You hear a never-ending chorus of pounding keys. Yes, we live in digital age and I bet you can’t imagine not using your laptop for studying. Yes, laptops enable you to do more academic work and do it more efficiently. You can collaborate more easily on presentations and papers, get instant access to numerous libraries and sources online and take a huge amount of notes as you probably belong to the majority that types faster than they write.

The truth is, those who type do take more notes compared to those who use good old pen and paper. However, according to the new study published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (from Princeton University and University of California respectively) students who take notes on paper learn significantly more compared to their laptop-addicted peers. Here are the main reasons why:

Writing takes time and digestion is necessary

Our brain uses two different types of cognitive processing when doing these two operations: typing and writing. As tested on a group of undergrads, the research proved that laptop users type almost everything they hear without processing the meaning or devoting much thought to what it is they’re taking notes on. Basically, when you type, all you’re doing is mindlessly transcribing, and that does not require much cognitive activity.

When you take notes by hand, however, you obviously can’t write down every single word your professor utters. So you listen, summarize, and list only the key points. Your brain is more engaged in the process of comprehension and so the information processed this way is remembered better.

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Longer notes does not equal better notes

You may object to the point above by saying that transcribing everything will help you later on when studying for the test. Nope! Wrong again. Students who participated in the study were assessed within a week, and longhand note takers significantly out-performed those who took notes on their laptop. Oppenheimer states that handwriting provides more effective memory cues by recreating:

  • context, as you remember the original process of writing, the emotion, and the conclusions made in your own words, and–
  • content, e.g. some individual facts written and summarized.

When comparing test scores, researchers noted that laptop users and longhand note takers performed similarly on factual questions with slightly better results from the typers. However, laptop users did significantly worse on conceptual questions.

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    Laptops are overwhelmingly distracting

    Now this may sound like a no-brainier, but still, the facts are staggering. Students on average spend 40% of class time using all sorts of productivity killers, from instant chat messages to answering emails to simply browsing around the web. What may surprise you is that according to this research, undergrad and law students rated themselves less satisfied with their college education in general and were more likely to fail classes due to constant temptation to switch to unrelated tasks and the higher risks of academic dishonesty. Just think for a second, are you paying tens thousands of dollars per year to watch funny YouTube videos?

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    DeathtoStock_Wired4

      Have I convinced you? Great! Here are some tips for how to take notes by hand more effectively:

      Master shorthand

      There are numerous methods and shorthand systems for writing words and long letters faster by turning them into special symbols. One of the most popular ones is Teeline, commonly used for training journalists in the UK. You remove unnecessary letters (like silent letters or vowels, unless they come first or last) and twist them into simpler alphabet symbols that are faster to write.

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      If you find it hard to convert to shorthand entirely, try adopting a your own translation system for the most commonly used words in your writing – for example, “cld” for “could” or “w/” for “with.” Just make sure you don’t lose your cheat-sheet!

      Use the right formatting

      If you have just switched from laptop note taking to writing notes by hand, imagine the way you used to put down everything in Microsoft Word or any other writing app you’ve used. Make big titles, use bullet points and underline important phrases. Plus, leave enough white space between your notes so you can add extra information later on when studding for the test.

      Get a stress ball

      After a few hours of writing by hand your fingers, palm and wrist may be extremely exhausted. Get yourself a stress ball to squeeze once in a while to build up finger and hand strength. Also, do not forget to stretch out your writing hand to avoid elbow injuries and unpleasant muscle pains.

      Try the Cornell Notes method

      An old, yet still incredibly effective method, to take excellent study notes is the Cornell Notes method. Divide your page into two columns. The right one should be larger – that’s where you write down all the ideas, include tables, charts and pretty much everything else you do as you usually write notes. It can be messy. The left column is where you put big bulletin points and short statements, generalizing corresponding ideas from the right column.

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      Also, you can leave the end of each page blank and later write down a brief summary of the page in a couple sentences. Down the line, when studying for an exam or paper, it will help you find the necessary topics easily.

      Lefties: get a felt-tipped pen

      Ink stains, smudged letters and thus absolutely unreadable handwriting – sound familiar to you? Get a good felt-tipped pen that won’t smudge that bad when you drag your hand behind the pen while writing.

      Featured photo credit: Eric Jusino via flickr.com

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      Last Updated on May 20, 2019

      How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

      How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

      Time.

      When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

      As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

      Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

      Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

      The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

      There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

      Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

      And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

      So, how do you start?

      Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


      The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

      What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

      Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

      A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

      Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

      Assess Your Current Time Spent

      Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

      For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

      To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

      Tricks to Tackle Distractions

      Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

      Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

      Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

      1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

      One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

      Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

      2. Beware of Emails

      Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

      Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

      Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

      3. Let Technology Help

      As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

      Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

      4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

      Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

      This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

      So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

      Time is in Your Hands

      At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

      You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

      Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

      So what are you waiting for? 

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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