Tuesday, August 16, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

Productivity through superior handwriting

I recently read an article about the decline of handwriting. According to this piece, kids are no longer thought writing cursive past second grade, cellphones and computers have all but replaced handwriting, and in the future everyone will write like 8 year olds.

This made me think. I spend a lot of time typing on a computer. I rarely write more than a few words at a time by hand and I haven't used cursive in 25 years. When I do write something by hand it is usually taking notes. I take down notes quickly and predictably my handwriting is atrocious.

I don't want to have atrocious handwriting, so I decided that moving forward I would take down all my notes in cursive. As you would expect, taking notes in cursive is a lot slower than my usual chicken scratch. More surprisingly I've found that writing cursive has helped improve my productivity.

How is it possible that slowing down my writing has helped me accomplish more? There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the slower pace of my writing allows my mind to elaborate on the ideas I am writing down. Before I would take down a few keywords and move on to my next task. Now I have to wait for my hands to catch up with my thinking. That extra time allows me to think through alternative solutions and discover more aspects of the problem. In short I take much higher quality notes when I spend a little more time thinking about what I am writing.

The more thorough thought process leads to improved productivity because I am able to understand the tasks more clearly and faster. In stead of taking many short and unreadable noes in a meeting, I now write slower and investigate the issue as I write. Instead of having to take my notes back with me and go over them and then have a follow up session for new questions, I can ask the questions in the original meeting and everybody saves time.

The same principle applies to all of my handwriting projects. When I write my to-do list in the morning I spend about 15 minutes more than I used to. These 15 minutes are made up several times over during the day by having a more concise and actionable to-do list. As I write down the tasks I would like to complete that day, I have the extra time to put down notes on what actions I need to take and ideas for solutions I might have.

Another surprising benefit of writing everything in cursive is that my notes are a lot more organized. Since my writing is more disciplined, I also keep my notes tidier. I would often scribble down short reminders and notes on any spare scrap of paper. Now I keep a separate notebook for my notes. I give each note it's own headline and write a short paragraph in cursive about anything I need to take down.

The common factor for these benefits is mindfulness. By focusing on writing slower and more deliberately I am forced to pay attention to what I am writing.  When my focus is on what I am doing rather than what I will be doing, the quality of my work is always better.

The benefits of this is twofold. The most obvious improvement is that it is a lot easier to find my notes when I need them. No more looking for loose paper scraps and notes spread all over the place, I just look them up under the correct headline and there they are. But the real benefit of this new found order is more subtle.

Having a system of notes that is easy to use for reference and is pleasant to read makes it a lot easier to trust my own system. When I trust that I can find my notes and I actually enjoy going through them I don't have to keep track of these things in my mind anymore. Being able to free up mental processing power let's me focus on my current tasks. The result is improved productivity.

As a final footnote, I can also add that writing becomes more enjoyable when your handwriting is beautiful. I guess it's still a stretch to call my cursive beautiful, but it is getting better every day and is easily superior to my previous writing style.

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