• Digital note-taking devices are on the rise in the workplace
  • Digital notepads and tablets are great for some things but not for others
  • Handwriting notes isn’t as efficient but it’s actually better for you at work
  • Writing notes by hand exercises your “brain muscles” and improves memory
You can’t remember it, but know that you wrote it down somewhere.

It’s either on one of your multiple pads of paper or your little planner notebook.

Or, maybe was it on a sticky note?

Actually, maybe you wrote it on the PowerPoint print out during the meeting.

You spend the next full hour turning your workspace area upside down to find that one piece of critical information that you need.

Where the fuck is it?!

Now, it’s not just about finding the info. It’s become a personal irritating challenge that you just can’t let go of and that you gotta sort out.

So, you flip through every single page on all the pads of paper (twice), rummage through piles of print outs and file folders. Hell, you even start searching on the floor thinking that maybe you accidentally dropped it down there.

Dammit, it’s somewhere.

After you’ve searched every inch of your cubicle, you desperately wish that you could just do a “keyword search” in real life and have that piece of paper just appear magically right in front of you.

These are the moments that you start to contemplate the idea of using a digital notepad or tablet to take notes digitally instead of the old school way of pen and paper.

Then, searching and finding that piece of information is only a single keyword search away.

Maybe, those Millennials and Gen Zers are onto something with their digital note-taking ways.

We’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the specs of digital note-taking devices - that’s not what this article is about.

This is all about taking a more high-level holistic view of note-taking in the digital and analog worlds.

The Pros & Cons Of Using A Digital Notepad vs Handwriting With Pen & Paper

Since the dawn of the digital age in the 1960s and 70s, a lot of things in our lives have made the jump from the old world ways to the new emerging tech.

Music is a great example.

For over a century, listening to music meant that you put a vinyl record on the turntable. We can thank Thomas Edison for creating the phonograph back in 1877 - that was a pretty kick-ass invention. Big ups to you Tommy!

However, with the advent of digitalized sound, CDs became all the rage in the 80s and 90s. Then, it was the MP3 era in the 2000’s with digital music players. And now, it’s all about streaming digital bits-n-bytes of music over the internet.

The debate over old analog tech of vinyl records versus new digitalized music is one that has both camps screaming at each other as to which one’s better.

This same duel is starting to emerge with note-taking.

One camp is all about using new tech to make life easier and more efficient. While the other is all about sticking to what’s simple and works every time.

And, both have their positives and negatives.

Going High-Tech With A Digital Notepad Or Tablet

Electronic tablets, also known as “pen computing”, have been around in commercialized form since the early 1980’s. Back then, they were quite rudimentary and had limited capabilities.

In the 1980’s, digital tablets were only just a techie geeky novelty. Then in 2010, Apple launched the iPad and totally took the world by storm with its very user-friendly interface. And, it’s pretty much dominated the market ever since.

Most people on this planet have used an iPad. And, every single parent owns at least one (probably two or more) for their kid’s entertainment, which in turn saves their sanity.

But now, we’re starting to see tablets moving from exclusive home media use to being used in the office as a way to take notes via note-taking apps.

And in some super rare cases, you can even see dedicated digital notepads - kinda like a Kindle for note-taking. Seeing one of those is like spotting a unicorn.

The Pros Of Digital Note-taking

Digital note-taking can be done in several ways including typing notes via laptop, using a note-taking app on a tablet or a dedicated digital note-taking device.

With any of these options, you get several big benefits that writing on paper just can’t match. And, these are pretty huge positives.

1) Save Forever - Well, maybe not for eternity, but saving information digitally can outlast most notes scribbled on paper. And, archiving is far easier digitally than having file cabinets full of papers.

2) Searchable - When you need to find that one thing, it’s just a single keyword search away. No more rummaging through all your scattered papers and no more fighting with your memory.

3) Legible - How many times have you been stumped by your own handwriting? Sometimes, we can’t even recognize our own sloppy scribble. In digital form, it’s right there in the default Arial or Calibri font.

4) Easy To Share - It’s really easy to send notes via email or messaging when it’s already in digital format. Yes, there’s snail-mail, but who uses that for sharing notes? Nobody.

5) Saves Paper - No more burning through pads of paper for taking notes. You’ll be saving some trees when you take notes digitally. Mother Nature is thanking you.

The Cons Of Digital Note-taking

Not everything that’s new and fresh is always good either. There’s always some compromises to new technologies and digital note-taking devices are no different. They’ve got a set of shortfalls that can be hard for some to accept.

1) Less Information Retention - When we type on a laptop or tablet, we all tend to transcribe what we see and hear word for word. We just become mindless finger tappers and don’t actually process the information.

2) Handwriting Recognition Is Spotty - You know the frustration when Alexa, Siri or Google virtual assistants get your voice request wrong? It just pisses you off. It’s the same with apps that use handwriting recognition. And some of us have some real chicken-scrawl handwriting.

3) Virtual Keyboards Suck - It’s hard enough trying to type fast using a real keyboard. And, it’s one thing to thumb type a message on your smartphone, but try typing on a tablet screen for a one hour meeting - not fun. Your fingertips will hurt.

4) More Excessive Screen Time - You already know about all the screen time we expose our eyes to during the day and night. Having to look at yet another screen for taking notes will mean even more excessive exposure for your eyes.

5) Technical Issues - Most times, technology does make our lives easier, more productive and happier. But, when tech doesn’t work right because of buggy software, glitches, etc., it becomes a real pain-in-the-ass thing to deal with.

Staying Analog With Pen & Paper

Writing on paper has been around for thousands of years. We’re talking way back to ancient Egyptian times when papyrus was the “paper”. And in fact, that’s where the origins of the word “paper” comes from - the “papyrus” plant.

As society evolved since then, paper has been the dominant medium of recording, sharing and reading information. Whether it was a feather quill, lead pencil or ballpoint pen, whatever the writing tool was, it was almost always used to write on paper.

Think back to your childhood. We all scribbled our way through primary and secondary school on paper. And it carried over into our college years too with some spattering of computer use here and there.

And to this day, nearly all of us still use pen and paper at work during meetings and phone calls to jot down notes.

The Pros Of Handwriting Notes

Just because it’s the “old way of doing things” doesn’t mean that it’s no longer effective. Sometimes, the method that’s been proven over and over is the best way to do things most of the time.

Writing in longhand form on paper has been the best and easiest way to save and share information since the dawn of civilization. And here’s why…

1) Better Information Retention - This Princeton/UCLA study proves that when you hand write notes, you’re actually using more of your cognitive skills by processing the information in a way that you can easily understand and this boosts your memory.

There’s a ton of scientific data behind this and rather than put you to sleep with boring text, watch this 3-minute video clip that explains everything in plain English.

VIDEO: Typing vs. Handwriting: Which Is Better for Your Memory?
LENGTH: 3:32
Summary points:
  • Writing down notes makes you use more “brain muscles”
  • When you’re writing, your brain is processing and summarizing info
  • Reviewing handwritten notes further solidifies your memory
2) Less Eye Strain - Most of our day at work is spent sitting in a chair and staring at a monitor. Why add to that? Writing notes on paper during meetings and calls gives your eyes some relief from all the digital eye strain.

3) More Personal Connection - Arial and Calibri font is the same no matter who writes the content. But, your handwriting, for better or worse, is unique to you. It’s part of your personality. When you write on paper, there’s more of an emotional connection to what you’re writing.

4) Doodling & Creativity - Staying on the drawing aspect, taking handwritten notes on paper gives you the unique ability to instantly sketch out an idea or simply doodle during downtime. In fact, adult coloring is an amazing stress reliever.

5) Always Works - Pens, pencils and paper all don’t need batteries and don’t ever need to be recharged. And, they work, Every. Single. Time. No annoying software updates and/or tech glitches to deal with.

The Cons Of Handwriting Notes

Even though writing longhand is how most of us take notes, in some cases, it’s not as efficient as taking notes in digital bits-n-bytes.

We all experience the shortfalls of taking notes by hand - every day. And some of these shortfalls really frustrate us.

1) Slower & Sloppier - Most of us can type faster than we can write - of course, with some exceptions. With longhand, it’s really hard to keep up with everything that’s being spoken in meetings (unless you’ve learned speedwriting) and so your handwriting legibility goes to shit.
2) Can’t Keyword Search - Searching through your handwritten notes is a time consuming process of visually scanning and flipping through print outs and pads of paper. There’s no keyword searching capability.

3) Wastes Paper - The average US worker chews through 10,000 sheets of paper every year...10,000 sheets! To put that into perspective, that’s a stack of paper that over 30 feet tall. So much for the paperless office, right?

4) Harder To Share - Converting your analog handwritten note into digital format isn’t easy. You’d essentially have to type in the information - thus duplicating your work.

5) Can’t Integrate Other Digital Content - The analog world can’t accept digital content. For example, you simply can’t staple a digital photo to a page of paper unless you convert it to an analog format by physically printing it out.

Our Advice: Use Paper Over Pixels For Now

Despite the detractions of using handwritten notes and the obvious benefits of digital note-taking, there’s still a reason why handwriting notes at work still reigns supreme in the office world.

It simply works and it’s easy.

Yes, you can’t “keyword search” or do any of the other digital functions with traditional notes, but the one thing that handwriting notes does and will always continue to do is this - it keeps our brains sharper.

And that allows us to “work smarter, not harder” and this ultimately leads to less stress, better productivity and more happiness at work.

But, technology is constantly improving. And once digital note-taking devices can really solve the current issues with handwriting recognition and somehow mimic the tactile and emotional connection of writing on paper, they’ll start becoming a more accepted form of note-taking at work.

Until then, there are things you can do to take better notes at work.

Will handwriting notes on paper disappear?

Will it turn into some obscure art form?

Our answer: never.

There’s something innately rewarding with using our hands and a tool to produce something that is as unique as our fingerprint.

It’s the reason why we all still hand write congratulatory birthday wishes in the office group birthday card for someone instead of sending an email. It’s more personal and special.

Does that mean that our notes should be too?

No, not necessarily. But in a way, your scribbled work notes represent your progress, ideas and even dreams. And, isn’t that worth something?

We think so.

Feel Better,

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