5 Easy Tips to Harness the Power of Pen & Paper

5 Easy Tips to Harness the Power of Pen & Paper

Sure, we can all agree that advances in technology aid in areas of personal productivity and general well-being. Digital calendars, reminders, notifications, wireless everything, to-do lists, health monitors, task managers, sleep trackers, and the latest gadgets with ever-faster processing power and longer battery life can increase our output and efficiency when used wisely. We can even summon a unicorn to mirror our facial expressions while texting our friends if we so desire...quite productive, indeed!

Having said as much, I believe we can also agree that widespread, rampant tech use increases our stress levels, causes us to feel overwhelmed, disconnected and isolated, and in many cases, actually decreases the very productivity it was meant to enhance. Think back to the last time you wasted an hour in the black hole that is the social media never-ending scrolling feed; certainly, you can relate!

But there is relief from the cold. There is warmth in the analog human connection. We can unplug from the chaos. Two simple objects brilliantly combat the digital onslaught of notifications, dings, beeps, and vibrations. Incredible as it may sound, our earliest technological advances in the productivity space provide some of the highest value returns in terms of fulfillment, a sense of purpose, connectedness, and overall general well-being. And yes, they can help us increase our productivity as well. Pen and paper can do it all, and in today’s article, I will share my five best ways to harness the incredible power that is the combination of pen and paper.


1. Keep a Journal

You hear this quite a bit in the personal productivity space, and for good reason. Whether keeping a gratitude journal, a sketchbook of ideas, or a Dear Diary memoir, logging your thoughts in a journal provides myriad benefits. Research even points to a gratitude practice as having measurable, physical benefits to the brain itself; imagine journaling as a way to increase grey matter and reduce stress. Impressive!

Why not keep a digital journal, you say? You could, but I do believe we miss a bit of the magic when we keep our thoughts solely in the digital realm. Consider one study showing that even when turned over and off, a phone within eyesight can cause distraction and stress in the brain. Surely, the same is happening when keeping a digital journal on the same device as your Instagram, Snap, Twitter, and Facebook accounts...you get the point.

A physical journal is the ultimate in portability, and there are few places it cannot go. Forget chargers, opt for a journal and fountain pen instead. I carry several journals depending on the where and when, one of which is a Moleskine that doubles as a wallet, and it is with me wherever one would carry said wallet. Small and compact, it fits neatly in my back pocket, and has plenty of space for cards and cash. While I could use my phone to jot a quick note, for times of immediate inspiration or to write down the frequent “ah-ha” moments, I nearly always opt to pull out the Pelikan and Moleskine.

As an added benefit, a well-constructed journal with acid-free paper can stand the test of time. Several years ago I started a journal company myself, with the ultimate goal of producing the world’s longest-lasting, archival-quality journal. While the business itself failed, the original goal was a success. Using Byron Weston Linen Record paper and a 100% copper cover, the journal I produced was the longest-lasting journal available on the market at the time; it will outlive its users many times over.

The same is not always the case for a digital journal...consider this blog for example, and the 70+ articles contained herein...when I stop paying the Squarespace fees this site will cease to exist, and the myriad articles lost to the depths of the dark hole that is the internet of time. And why might one want their words to outlive them? Consider your exuberance should you be in possession of the Codex Leicester - exuberance, indeed! Don’t have a cool 35 million? No worries - Imagine the same exuberance should you own your great-great grandfather’s journal of ideas...while you didn’t know him, his words live on with your ownership of the family heirloom.

A journal is a game changer, indeed, and is a fantastic way to harness the power of pen and paper.


2. Write Letters

In the age of emojis, text messages, email, and social media, a hand-written correspondence is rare, indeed. But it has tremendous value, and putting fountain pen to paper is a powerful way to show those important in your life that you care. Whether birthdays, holidays, special occasions, or no special occasion at all, a well-timed hand-written letter is a gift that keeps giving. We hang up Christmas and birthday cards...not so with email; when is the last time you printed out a text message from a friend and kept it in a personal file or hung it on the refrigerator?

Hand-written correspondence also pays massive dividends in the professional world as well. In one of myriad examples, I always write thank you letters to donors that support our swimming & diving program here at Liberty. I know they appreciate the extra touch and time that I spend thanking them for their efforts, and when it comes time to give again in the future, the fact that I thanked them personally certain won’t hurt in our friendraising efforts.

Write a letter. Use pen and paper. Your emotional, psychological, and monetary bottom lines will thank you.


3. Save The Day...Just In Case.

“Do you have a pen?”

We’ve all been there...someone needs a pen, and it always seems to happen at the precise moment when a pen is nowhere in sight. No longer. You shall save the day, and you’ll one up the effort when you offer paper in combination with said pen. While the back of the hand for reminders or lane assignments is nostalgic, harking back to grade school and summer league swim meets, a well-timed delivery of pen and paper for those in need is a lifesaver.

Carry a pen and a journal, because you will absolutely find yourself in a moment where your heroics can save the day.


4. Mind Map and Brainstorm

The David Allen types will recognize this as capturing, and it is a powerful productivity tool, indeed. A pen and paper remain one of the best ways to empty your head and capture valuable thoughts, concepts, and ideas. From personal to professional and everywhere in between, our lives become instantly better, more organized, and less stressful when we get out of our own heads and get our thoughts down on paper. Stuck on a challenge at work? Not sure where to go in that one relationship you have? Need ideas for that big event you’re planning? Mind map it on a piece of paper with a fountain pen, and all is well.

Yes, digital tools exist that create beautiful mind maps, and I am the proud owner of MindNode 5. I used it to create the Blair Legacy Project and I Can If...but the original concept started on paper with a fountain pen. Typed is great for the finished product...for the rough sketch, nothing beats pen and paper. As it were, I’m writing this article from an outline created in a Moleskine with my trusty Pelikan m1005 Demonstrator fountain pen. I’ll have it no other way.


5. Draw, Doodle, Daydream

While closely related to mind mapping and brainstorming, I wanted to throw this in for our more artistic readers (of which, sadly, I am definitely not). Here again, myriad programs exist in which we can create beautiful digital worlds, characters, concepts, etc.. But they should start with a pen (or pencil) on paper. From studio art, to cinema, to music, it starts with a doodle on paper or a storyboard with drawings to match.

To create is to experience living, and I urge you to create more and consume less. Draw, doodle, or daydream. Your brain will thank you, and you’ll be harnessing the incredible power of pen and paper in the process.


Apple Watch 3...iPhone X...iPad Pro. I get it. I have them all and use them all. A tech Luddite I am definitely not. But tech is a means to an end, not the end-all in and of itself. Low tech is OK. Low tech is good. No tech is often times better still. The combination of pen and paper are powerful, and your life will improve, in some cases instantly, should you choose to adopt one or all of the concepts listed above.

Try a hand-written letter to your parents or grown children for starters. Harness the power, then reap the rewards. Keep a journal of your best (or worst) ideas to pass on to your kids, then their kids, then the great grands you’ll probably never meet. A mind map or capturing session of your to-dos will clear your head and free up precious cognitive horsepower for more meaningful thoughts. A good daydream session of moonshots or someday/maybe ideas will do likewise. And when the time comes, and you feel the tremble and fear in the voice...“does anyone have a pen?” you’ll be there, ready and willing, to save the day.

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