Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Analog Note Taking and Bad Handwriting

It all started with this tweet by Scott Berkun:

A tweet about bad handwriting by Scott Berkun

As much as I like jotting notes in a Moleskine or Field Notes notebook, I have to admit that I sometimes have trouble reading my own writing. I joke that the only person in the world who can read my handwriting isn’t me; it’s my wife. In fact, my handwriting is so illegible sometimes that I’ve lost important information because couldn’t I read what I’d jotted down.

There are people out there, including I’m sure a few of fives who read this blog, who are saying that I could have easily avoided those situations. How? By using a digital tool like Simplenote or Evernote or Google Keep. Not really. I’m not always connected, and I don’t always have a device with which to capture those ideas. Anyway, writing by hand is faster than typing on a small screen.

Luckily, I learn from my (many) mistakes. Well, most of the time. Here are three tips for taking notes with pen and paper if you have bad handwriting.

Take It Slowly

Speed can be your enemy. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, writing by hand is faster than typing on a small on-screen keyboard. While ideas or thoughts may come at a rapid clip, if you try to take them down quickly the quality of your handwriting will deteriorate. In this case, go from bad to much worse.

Instead, try to write a bit more slowly. Take as much time as you can to write down what you need to write down. You’ll notice that your handwriting will be noticeably more legible that way.

But what if slowing down isn’t an option? Then don’t try to write everything that comes to your mind. Instead, take point form notes. Focus on the key ideas. Omit words (like articles). Use abbreviations or even txt-speak. Whatever it takes to get the information down, but in a form that you can read and understand.

Use a Fine-Point Pen

For whatever reason, this works for me. The difference in the quality of my handwriting when using a fine-point pen rather than a medium-point one is very noticeable. Even when I’m scribbling furiously.

Admittedly, the gains to be had by using a fine-point pen aren’t incredible — my handwriting doesn’t automatically become more beautiful when I use one. But when I combine doing this with the previous tip, I’m able to take notes that are easier to read and process.

Use the Notebook for Immediate Capture

That, I think, is the key to using pen and paper — no matter how good or bad your handwriting is. Use pen and paper to capture your thoughts or ideas immediately. When you can — and that should be as soon as possible — type up your notes in a tool like Evernote, Simplenote, WorkFlowy, Google Keep, or just a text file.

If you’ve taking your notes effectively, going from analog to digital can be a smooth process. Writing it down can make your thoughts or ideas stick. At the very least, your notes should jog your memory. When typing them up, you can flesh the information out using whatever prompts exist in your notes (whether you put them there deliberately or not). And while going from analog to digital is a bit of extra work, it’s worthwhile: you’ll lose less information, if any.

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