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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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      Elena Prokopets

      Elena is a passionate blogger who shares about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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      Last Updated on July 13, 2020

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

      If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

      1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

      The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

      Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

      For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

      The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

      2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

      Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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      As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

      Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

      3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

      Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

        This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

        We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

        Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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        When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

        Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

        4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

        Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

        For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

        Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

        5. Make Decisions

        For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

        If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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        If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

        Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

        I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

        This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

        The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

        6. Take Some Form of Action

        Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

        The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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        It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

        Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

        The Bottom Line

        Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

        When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

        More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

        Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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