Changing work-habits: Writing by hand

Soon, I am going to make some changes in my work habits. I am going to begin writing things down.

The emphasis is on writing, i.e. on writing on paper and in the long hand, as in contrast to typing on a computer keyboard.

I oftentimes find that the interface of a keyboard and a monitor (and a mouse) is simply not good enough for quickly jotting down points in a natural way. Using a pen/pencil and a paper is a very easy way to simultaneously create “mind-maps” or “concept-maps” right while the writing process is in progress. May be there are other reasons too, but the act of handwriting also seems to reinforce learning in ways that typing and saving documents doesn’t. Typing is too mechanical and does not create those personal niches in short-term or long-term memory the way hand-writing seems to do. Writing by hand also is much faster when it comes to catching the transient flavors of the ephemeral states of your mind—you can alter, jump up and down a page, draw graphs, do it with digrams, arrows, doodles, symbols, reminders, and all that.

It is true that notes typed as computer documents are easy to rearrange through cut-and-paste. But the matter to be thus cut and pasted is itself best created in a prior stage of writing in the long hand.

Now all this is very obvious. But it surprises me that it has been a year since the time that I did any serious handwriting…. It was last Diwali, in fact, when, while doing the project work for Zeus Numerix (right, the same characters who did not pay me anything despite their promise), I had committed both my desks to all my computers at home, so as to make a network of sorts, to be able to complete their assignment which was on MPI (and also involved CGNS). The small “project” got over, but I, somehow, happened not to rearrange the space thinking best not to disturb it once the network was so neatly in place. And also not noticing that, in the process, it has taken away 100% of the desk-space that was available to me at home. It was only recently—last month—that I realized what a long time it has been since I wrote.

Incidentally, did I tell you that the best way of writing is done not while working at a desk-top itself but while keeping an engineering drawing board slanted in between the desk and the side-arms of a chair. It was at the COEP hostels that we discovered that this way of studying was most efficient & productive. Three reasons. (i) The angle of the board thus kept is, it has been found by experience, the most ergonomic. In contrast, on the usual horizontal surface of a desk, things kept afar tend to go out of the reach. They are at progressively more uncomfortable angles, both to the eye and to the hands. (ii) As compared to sitting in a chair at a desk, the board, once thus arranged tends to trap you in. It becomes a bit too heavy or unwieldy to easily get out of, especially if you have kept a couple of heavy books on it. (And which engineering books are not heavy? More on this, later…) It certainly becomes much more unwieldy than simply pushing the chair aside to get up and do “time-pass” around. Overall, sitting with the drawing board serves to keep you “at it” for a longer time. (Even hard to pin-down people are known to study for a couple of hours at a stretch!) (iii) It helps create some extra space on the table-top in addition.

Nope, scribd is not an alternative either. It has to be plain old writing on the paper.