I keep seeing articles debating the use versus non-use of handwriting in the post-PC era. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever figure out a way of making handwriting totally obsolete. It’s just too organic, natural, and cozy-feeling to make ink trails on a page without the aid of an electronic device.

I find handwriting useful in at least two settings:

  1. In meetings
  2. While problem-solving

Handwriting in meetings

Michael Schechter pointed me to Stephen Hackett’s capture form—a template with a 2x2 grid of:

  • Reference information
  • Meeting notes
  • Action items for others
  • Action items for me (i.e. the note-taker)

Stephen also made a handy TextExpander snippet.

I’ve never used a formal template like this, but you might find it useful. I like how Stephen’s form identifies the most important takeaways from most any meeting. It makes post-meeting processing easier. That’s a good thing because I think the most people suck at turning notes into action.

I still prefer mind maps. I like writing all over a page, in no linear order. As tasks bubble to the surface of the mind map, I mark them with a box (symbolizing a checkbox). This makes it easy to enter the actions—which often need additional editing—into OmniFocus later.

Michael’s post-meeting process mirrors mine pretty closely:

After each meeting, my action items are entered into OmniFocus (or completed if they only take a few minutes), I email or explain tasks to others, scan the form into Evernote for reference and shred the paper.

Doodling my way out of problems

I’m an actuary, and my job involves tackling complex quantitative problems. I have an extensive background in mathematics, but I’ve learned that real problem-solving is much more about art than mechanistic number-crunching.

Problem-solving is an organic mental exercise: A messy, flawed, no-one-way-of-doing-things dance across a gradient that flows from knowing less to knowing more.

For me, handwriting, more specifically, doodling, is an artistic lever in the problem-solving I do. It’s a way of staying active while sorting through different scenarios.

Doodling expert Sunni Brown explains the utility of doodling beautifully in “The Miseducation of the Doodle”:

Doodling may be better described as ‘markings to help a person think.’ Most people believe that doodling requires the intellectual mind to shutdown, but this is one misrepresentation that needs correcting. There is no such thing as a mindless doodle. The act of doodling is the mind’s attempt to engage before succumbing to mindlessness.

If you find yourself staring at a problem on a screen—of any size—without taking any action for more than five minutes or so, pen and paper might be your ticket out.

When you move your hand, you move your mind.