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You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

Have you written your to do list for to-day? Did you hand write it or did you use a digital post it on your desktop? The good news is that if you wrote it by hand in the good old fashioned way, you are more likely to remember it. If you used your keyboard for the digital version, this is not so effective for retention. Let us look at the scientific evidence for this and what exactly happens in the brain when we hand write.

The benefits of handwriting.

A friend of mine is learning Japanese and he patiently copies each character out hundreds of times in long columns. This helps him to remember them. Studies suggest that there are other benefits of handwriting as well.

Children can learn to write and remember the letters while doing so. This can improve their ability to form ideas which will then lead to more effective communication. It is an effective way of training the brain. Educationalists still insist that handwriting should be taught in schools. But in 2014 there are plans in 45 American states to drop the teaching of handwriting in favour of keyboard skills. Digital writing is great for our technological age but what are kids missing out on?

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This is what worries researchers such as Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay who have been leading research on this at the University of Stavanger in Norway at the The National Centre for Reading Education and Research.

Because the whole process of writing involves visual perception and motor function which are inextricably linked, this activity cannot be ignored in educating children to write. Their research on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data showed that more areas of the brain were activated when handwriting.

One experiment done by Mangen involved two groups of adults who were given the task of learning a new alphabet which had just 20 letters. The first group was instructed in how to write these characters by hand. The second group was taught by using a keyboard. When the groups were tested after a six week period, the handwriting group were scoring much better on how they remembered the letters. This would seem to suggest that handwriting beats keyboarding for memory retention.

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What happens in the handwriting process?

“How utterly bound to the physical world of bodies is writing, one of the awesome products of the human mind.” – Haas 1998

When you start writing with a pen, a complex process starts in the brain. It has been shown that a part of the brain called the RAS (reticular activating system) is stimulated and will also act as a filter to help you focus and get the task done.

You have to learn how to hold the pen, then think of the letters and how they are formed and also how they are joined up in cursive writing. There are complex motor and visual functions at work here.

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At higher levels, you are using the brain to transfer knowledge in a meaningful fashion, not to mention how to activate the information for memory retention. Hitting two different letters on a keyboard is not activating the brain in the same way at all. You are also getting feedback on another medium, the screen, so there is a different process involved.

Taking notes in lectures.

It has been estimated that only about two-thirds of students take notes in class. This is an important memory tool for learning afterwards. When we listen to a lecture, we are likely to remember only about 10 percent of the information. Note taking by hand is laborious, whereas typing the information on a laptop keyboard is faster. As Walter Pauk, the director of the reading and study center at Cornell University suggests in his book, “How to Study in College,” you should write out your notes afterwards by hand as this will be a definite help in the learning and memory process. Study the infographic here

Using handwriting to help your memory

As we have seen, handwriting will help our memory retention more than hours of typing on a keyboard. Depending on your learning style, you may find some of the techniques useful.

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1. Write it down again and again. Repetition of the process will reinforce your learning.
2. Increase your memory by as much as 70 percent when you go through your notes within 24 hours.
3. If you are a morning person, aim to refresh difficult material early on, as your brain is less tired.
4. Reading and re-reading material is likely to result in a disappointing 20 percent retention.
5. Use mind maps if they help you to remember facts. This is an excellent way of visualizing how various bits of information fit into a concept/plan. They are also more fun to create than simple notes.

Will apps save the day?

The best news of all is that handwriting is far from finished. There are now apps for iPhones on the market to help kids and adults with their handwriting. Kids can use either a finger or stylus to practise forming letters and then words. Adults can use apps where any handwriting input, again using a finger or stylus, is accepted and then converted into email, documents or tweets.

Tell us in the comments below whether you prefer good old fashioned handwriting or do you prefer more digital input to help you remember your shopping list. Now, where did I save that digital post it?

Featured photo credit: Penmanship/ KP Werker via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Freelance writer

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How to Fight Information Overload

How to Fight Information Overload

Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

What you need to do is focus on these 4 steps:

  1. Set your goals.
  2. Decide whether you really need the information.
  3. Consume only the minimal effective dose.
  4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming too much information.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

The Nature of the Problem

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog post we don’t even consider reading it, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it. We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

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No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control. Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it. But first…

Why information overload is bad

It stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here. When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work, or enjoy your passion.

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So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with your goals.

1. Set your goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. What to do when facing new information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans then skip it. You don’t need it.

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If it does then it’s time for another question. Will you be able to put this information into action immediately? Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks? Or is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away? If the information is not actionable in a day or two (!) then skip it. (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant. Self-control comes handy too … it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future then SKIP IT.

3. Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour Body,Tim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs. Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life. Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming more information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

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Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

In Closing

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance. I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over. I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

Feel free to shoot me a comment below and share your own story of fighting information overload. What are you doing to keep it from sabotaging your life?

(Photo credit: Businessman with a Lot of Discarded Paper via Shutterstock)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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