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The Analog Attorney

Boost Productivity by Slowing Down a Little

By Bull Garlington

You’re an unstoppable legal machine. You churn through a hundred pages of briefs and legal research every day. You’re running two phones, a tablet, a laptop and a portable fax machine off a light pole at the airport. Your inbox is an email volcano. You’ve heard of people who go for zero inbox but you figure they’re urban myths like Bigfoot or Jim Bob Kardashian.

Your productivity is relentless.

Which is great for the bottom line. When your billable hours are like a red-hot furnace propelling your firm’s success train at 100 mph down a track that leads to profit, it might be hard to see how backing off the throttle will get you there faster. However, some research has found there’s value in building breathing room into your schedule — and the method could not be easier.

Why to Write More by Hand

Scientific American, reporting on current research on office workers, related that daydreaming and moments wherein the mind wanders are not, as many believe, lapses in productivity. “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

The research discussed in the article also found the benefits of walks in the park, vacations and meditation were essential to the productivity of great musicians and athletes. Which is great for highly productive flautists and people competing in the Great Race, but it’s never making it onto your agenda.

Your keyboard is the link between your brain and your work. Your efforts flow like a raging torrent through your fingers onto the screen. But should they?

How much of your furious typing is just side notes and idea capturing? Much of that can be just as effective when written in cursive on paper with a pen. Perhaps more so.

When Writing in Cursive Is Better Than an App

Writing in cursive takes time. Not a lot of time, but compared with typing it’s like walking versus being shot from a cannon. Still, that extra couple of seconds it takes to jot down your thoughts lets your mind wander just the tiniest little bit. And that can be really good for your productivity.

Not only are you spending a few precious seconds decompressing on paper, you’re also receiving sensory feedback from the nib as it traces letters, from the sound of the nib, and from seeing the words form. Taking notes by hand, especially with a really great pen, can provide just a few minutes of what cognitive scientists call enriched reality. Writing with a fountain pen is luxurious.

Like the tuba players walking in the woods, you are giving your mind some breathing room away from relentless employment while enjoying the sensate pleasure of the real. Your mind isn’t simply spinning its wheels; it’s using that microscopic free time to go over its own notes and pull aggregate information together in the back of your mind and, most importantly, it’s recharging.

You’ll Be Better at Your Job

Science indicates information laid down by the nib of a pen is easier to recall when you really need it, and you’ll recall more of it. The reason, according to a study by Princeton and the University of California quoted in The Guardian, relates to the effort of writing notes by hand. Writing notes on paper instead of typing them into a computer meant students “… rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarizing and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, sometimes even making a literal transcript, but avoided what is known as desirable difficulty.”

Writing by hand might make you a better writer as well. According to a 2016 paper in the British Journal of Psychology, interfering with the fluidity of keyboard usage benefits the cognitive process of writing. Srdan Medimorec, the study’s lead author, said, “Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process.”

In the study, the researchers forced writers to type with only one hand, slowing them down. They found the students took more time to choose their words, resulting in higher-quality prose.

You May Have Better Recall

You tape a deposition because it provides a perfect recording. But while it is being recorded, and while you’re in the room, perhaps your own notes should be written instead of typed? Although it may seem at first glance that it’s going to be hard to keep up and to compress the words of the deposed, science indicates you’ll listen better and recall the best information faster and more fully.

More, these tiny moments of downtime, the eight and half seconds it takes to lay a word or two onto the paper, might be the most productive moments in your day. Tim Kreider, an essayist writing in The New York Times, put it best:

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

And don’t worry about capturing and storing your notes and great ideas for posterity; there is an app for that. Invest in a ScanSnap scanner or use your phone to capture documents right in Evernote or almost any cloud document management service.

Do you write your notes by hand? Your to-do list? How does it affect your productivity? Let us know below.

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Categories: Analog Attorney, Attorney Work-Life Balance, Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Productivity
Originally published October 4, 2017
Last updated October 20, 2020
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BULL Garlington Bull Garlington

Analog Attorney columnist Bull Garlington is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He is the author of the books “Fat in Paris,” “The Full English,” “Death by Children” and “The Beat Cop’s Guide.” He prefers South American literature, classic jazz, Partagas 1945s, a decent Laphroaig, and makes a mean chicken and andouille gumbo. Follow him @bull_garlington.

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