Analogue vs Digital: Why it's sometimes better to do things the old-fashioned way
I've chosen to put the following slogan on my website: 'serious gaming, serious playing, agile coaching and sketch noting'. For most people serious gaming, serious playing and agile coaching are obvious choices but for some the 'sketch noting' is a bit of a dark horse. In this blog I'd like to take the opportunity to explain why, to my mind, this is most definitely not the case. I truly believe that sketch noting is one of those essential skills that are too often ignored or dismissed as utter nonsense.
These days, most people use their laptops to take notes, there are several quite useful software programmes available to help you do this. You can also fabricate the most amazing mind maps on your computer or on a smart board during a meeting. And although I'm a self-proclaimed nerd and definitely happy to be part of this digital era, that doesn't necessarily mean that I believe that the digital option is always the best option. Sometimes it's better to just let those many screens be and do things the old-fashioned way: by using pen and paper.
I use a paper Bullet Journal to plan my day and keep track of my to-do lists. The act of physically crossing a task of my list closes this imaginary door inside my head. This way, I'm not only done with the task, I'm actually able to let it go. Copying tasks and projects from one week to another helps me to rethink my priorities and the relevance of the particular task I'm so diligently writing down. Seeing those scratches, scribbles and crossed-out tasks may seem messy and chaotic but it's much more tangible and more realistic than having this bright and clean list blinking at you from a screen.
I'm better able to remember things when I've written them down by hand, or even better, drawn them. The process of using my ears to perceive a message, using my head to convert that message into doodles and keywords and finally using my hands to record that message allows me to store information better and helps me access it more easily when I need to. It's a very tangible, intense and interactive way of processing information, much more active than typing words while looking at your screen. It's a different and more profound way of processing information.
Using doodles to make notes is an often overlooked skill that more people should be using. By not only translating information into keywords but subsequently translating those keywords into images you're able retain information a whole lot better. A lot of people will immediately start protesting that they'd be useless at sketch nothing because they're no good at drawing but that's simply not true. It's not about creating a masterpiece, it's about visually and physically creating an image of the information you're looking to retain. You're literally sketching the image which as a result etches itself into your brain. Sketch noting is something anybody can master, which is why I'm offering workshops to do just that.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'd be lost without my flip-over and Post-Its in all colours of the rainbow. During brainstorm sessions, the most effective way for me is to write my ideas down by hand on those itty-bitty coloured squares and place those squares on my flip-over. The physical action of writing my idea down and subsequently placing it on the board helps me to make sense of the multitude of ideas that are bouncing back and forth inside my head. Over the course of the brainstorm session, those ideas will make their way across my flip-over, to be filed under various categories in various compositions until I've got a clear picture in my head and on my board of my goals, planning and ideas. The sensation of the marker between my fingers, the limitations of the squares I'm using to write down my keywords and the walking to and from the flip-over to position and reposition those squares to match my progress are an essential part of my thinking process. And the same applies to the group I'm working with at that moment. A group's thought process tends to run more smoothly and more organically when you're busy writing things down together, shuffling them round and walking back and forth. By actively engaging as a group, the group as a whole is better able to align their thoughts and operate on the same wavelength. Which doesn't mean that you have to agree with anything and everything the group comes up with, I'd rather you didn't, but it'll allow you to get into 'the flow' as a group and as a result the group's efficiency increases.
I'm convinced that processing information in an analogue fashion is often better and more effective than using the many available digital tools out there. Something simply happens in your brain and your body that makes it easier for you to process, remember, and understand information better. By using paper to gather your thoughts, it's a lot easier to create a clear overview. Processing information doesn't only take place in your brain, it's a process that takes place inside your head as well as your body and by using all those senses and body parts, you are able to optimise your capacity and creativity resulting in a better, stronger and more beautiful end result. In this case analogue is definitely better than digital.
Oh, and by the way, I'm not the only one who believes this. Just google Bullet Journal and before you know it, hours have flown by watching videos on YouTube of the most amazing and colourful Journals created by people who're just as convinced as I am. And those Bullet Journallers aren't the only ones. Many mathematician swears by writing down formulas in chalk on a blackboard. But just because I, and all those other people, believe analogue is better, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's true. Nor does the fact that Steve Jobs and many other Silicon Valley titans ban their children from using screens, is actually proof that my claim is valid.
But what if I could prove it? Believe it or not, but there's quite a lot of scientific research available to support my claim. Tadaah! For instance, it's been scientifically proven that taking notes by hand will enable you to recall information more easily from that particular corner of your brain you'd stored it in the first place. Although sometimes taking notes on your laptop does have it's advantages too. You can easily find several scientific publications on the use of sketch noting or 'doodling' by searching that oh so handy, and yes digital, world wide web, but also this very interesting article posted by the Huffington Post several years ago. Or take the time to watch this TEDTalk by Sunni Brown on doodling, I highly recommend it.
As I've said earlier: in this case analogue is proven to be better than digital. And that doesn't only apply to taking notes. It's been proven that by having pupils perform physical exercises during class they're learning improves. Despite the many incredible and positive aspects of this digital era, the fact remains that we tend to passively slouch behind our screens blocking, without even knowing it, part of our mental capabilities. Which is rather sad, when you think about it. That thin line between the advantages of analogue and digital is exactly what my work as Scrum Master is all about. But that's another (blog) story.