The Productivity Box: The (Curious) Case for Handwriting

When was the last time, you wrote something by hand rather than typing it on a keyboard or mobile device? In our fast-paced, digital work culture, it can feel like handwriting has become a lost art. Writing by hand is often seen as tedious and inefficient compared to the ease and convenience of typing. Yet, there are many cognitive benefits associated with putting an actual pen to paper.

The Productivity Box: The curious case for handwriting

In this edition of the monthly Productivity Box series, we’re exploring the pen case 🙂 Let’s find out together why the pen may be mightier than the keyboard when it comes to brain development, retention, and overall function.

It might surprise you to learn just how useful and impactful of a skill handwriting can be to help you boost your work performance. Like all the other enablers we found during our getaways from the Productivity Box!

Handwriting activates certain neural pathways that typing does not

Research shows that the simple action of handwriting can sharpen your mind. That’s because the fluid three-finger strokes of manual dexterity activate the brain’s frontal and central lobes. These lobes control the learning processes, explains Frontiers in Psychology.

Even the basic movement of controlling a pen transmits sensory-motor data to the brain which strengthens your neural pathways. This makes it easier to both learn and recall essential information. Researchers call that deep encoding which, as they point out, helps ingrain whatever you write into long-term memory.

And this reminds me of what my mother has always told me. The same thing I’m frequently repeating to my kids these days:

Write it down and you’ll learn it faster!


In stark contrast, since typing is quicker, more repetitive, and doesn’t use a full range of motion, it also requires less brain activity to perform.

Another study from the Psychological Science Journal found that handwritten notes are more effective for retention than typed notes. Simply because you’re more likely to write down just the important details you need to remember.

Handwritten note taking also helps you limit distractions, improve focus and reframe complex material into a clear, succinct, understandable message that will stick with you for future reference.

How to use handwriting as a tool to boost your productivity at work

Of course, it’s not realistic in this digital world to abandon the computer and transcribe every email, meeting note, and co-worker request by hand.

However, there are some practical ways to harness the cognitive benefits of handwriting in order to increase productivity. Here are some ideas you can leverage in our digital world, even if you don’t handwrite everything.

Reflect with journaling

Reflect on each workday with a journal practice. Even just 15 minutes of journaling your reflections each day can elevate your work performance by 22.8 percent, according to a Harvard Business School study.

Researcher and psychologist Francesca Gino explains: “When people have the opportunity to reflect, they experience a boost in self-efficacy … As a result, they put more effort into what they’re doing and what they learn.

Plan your day by hand

Instead of using a digital planner, write out your agenda in an actual planner or notebook. You can do this just for the day, rather than for the entire work or month. Before starting the workday, list all the tasks you need to accomplish, then cross them off as you finish each one.

This process emits a chemical response of both motivation and pleasure. “The satisfaction of ticking off a small task is linked with a flood of dopamine. Each time your brain gets a whiff of this rewarding neurotransmitter, it will want you to repeat the associated behavior,” explains Dr. Ralph Ryback, a Harvard Medical School professor.

Track goal progress by hand

Make a list of goals in a notebook and then record your progress in the same notebook as you go. It’s well established that goal orientation can help you feel more energized, motivated, and connected to your work. Handwriting those goals could be even more impactful.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California found that people are 42 percent more likely to achieve the goals they write down. Keep a written record of your goals and track the milestones of success as you reach them.

Don’t ignore the connection between handwriting and productivity

Don’t be so quick to write off the art of handwriting as an inefficient or archaic waste of time. It can actually be a powerful tool to stimulate the brain, which leads to increased focus, alertness, retention, learning, motivation, and work performance.

So go ahead, bring handwriting back into your daily routine. With journaling, goal-setting, and daily planning, you don’t have to go totally analog to reap the benefits.

If you want to be more productive on the job, keep in mind that a pen is often mightier than a keyboard.

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