I’m a digital native CEO so it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that pen and paper can help CEOs make better plans. However, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that the act of physically writing down plans can have a significant impact on the quality of those plans and your success as a CEO in implementing them.
In this post, I’ll explore how using pen and paper can help you make better plans, why it works, and how to incorporate it into your planning process.
5 Benefits of Using Pen and Paper to Plan
Let’s start with the benefits to this traditional approach to improve your planning and decision-making abilities.
1. Improved Focus and Creativity
Using pen and paper to write down your plans can help improve your focus and creativity. When typing on a computer, it’s easy to get distracted by emails, notifications, and other digital distractions. Writing with pen and paper, on the other hand, allows you to eliminate those distractions and focus solely on the task at hand.
This increased focus can also lead to increased creativity. Research has shown that when we physically write something down, we engage different parts of our brain than when we type. This increased brain activation can help generate more creative ideas and approaches to problem-solving.
2. Better Memory Retention
Writing things down by hand can also improve your memory retention. Research has shown that when we physically write something down, it helps us to better remember it. This is because the act of writing engages more parts of our brain than typing does, which makes the information more memorable.
For CEOs, this means that writing down plans and ideas can help you remember and recall them more easily. This can be especially helpful when it comes time to implement those plans.
3. Increased Clarity and Organization
Using pen and paper can also help increase clarity and organization in your planning process. When typing on a computer, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of text and lose sight of the big picture.
Writing with pen and paper, on the other hand, allows you to see your ideas and plans in a more tangible way, which can help you to better organize them and ensure that they make sense as a whole.
Additionally, writing things down by hand can help you to more easily see patterns and connections between different ideas. This can be especially helpful when brainstorming or when trying to come up with creative solutions to problems.
4. Reduced Distractions
Using pen and paper can also help reduce distractions in your planning process. When working on a computer, it’s easy to get distracted by the internet, social media, and other digital noise. Writing with pen and paper eliminates those distractions and allows you to focus solely on the task at hand.
Additionally, when writing with pen and paper, you don’t have to worry about battery life, software updates, or other technical issues that can often be a distraction when working on a computer.
5. Increased Engagement
Using pen and paper can also help increase engagement in your planning process. When typing on a computer, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the process, as if you’re simply inputting data into a machine.
Writing with pen and paper, on the other hand, allows you to physically engage with your ideas and plans, which can help increase your emotional investment in them.
This increased engagement can lead to increased motivation and commitment to your plans, which can be especially important for CEOs who need to lead their organizations through periods of change and growth.
9 Smart Tips for Using Pen and Paper to Plan
I’ve found the following best practices to be especially helpful. They lie behind the design of my Goals, Grit and Greatness Planner, intended for busy CEOs to easily and consistently use pen and paper to capture thoughts and plans.
1. Start with a Blank Sheet of Paper
When beginning your planning process, start with a blank sheet of paper. It frees your mind to explore different ideas without any preconceived notions or constraints.
Use the blank sheet to create vision diagrams, mind maps, or any other visual aids that help you organize your thoughts and ideas. Write down or sketch your vision, goals, ideas, and tasks. Then look at them to organize as needed.
2. Pen and Paper Helps Focus the Mind
When you’re brainstorming or making plans on a computer or a smartphone, it’s easy to get distracted by notifications, emails, and messages. Writing with a pen and paper, on the other hand, helps you focus on the task at hand. With no other distractions, you can concentrate more fully on the planning process and generate more creative ideas.
3. Encourages Creativity
There’s something about the tactile experience of writing on paper that can encourage creativity and innovation. Writing with a pen and paper allows you to brainstorm and explore ideas in a more freeform and intuitive way than typing on a computer. It’s also easier to make notes, diagrams, and mind maps, which can help you creatively visualize and organize your thoughts more effectively.
Mind maps are a powerful tool for organizing your thoughts and ideas. They allow you to visualize relationships between different concepts and ideas, which can help you develop a more comprehensive and holistic plan.
To create a mind map, start by writing the main idea or goal in the center of the page. Then, branch out into different sub-ideas or related concepts, adding details and notes as you go. Mind maps can be a great way to explore different possibilities and create a framework for your plan.
4. Use Pen and Paper for Note-taking and Idea Generation
While it’s important to have a plan in place, it’s also important to remain flexible and open to new ideas. One way to do this is by using pen and paper for note-taking and idea generation. Whenever a new idea or insight strikes you, write it down on a piece of paper. This allows you to capture your thoughts in the moment and revisit them later when you have more time to explore them further.
5. Helps You Remember More
Research has shown that handwriting can help you remember things better than typing on a computer. Writing by hand engages different parts of the brain than typing, which can enhance your memory and help you recall information more easily. This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to make complex plans and need to remember multiple details and factors.
6. Can Help You Prioritize
When you’re planning on a computer, it’s easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Writing with a pen and paper can help you see the forest for the trees and prioritize the most important tasks and goals. You can use tools like mind maps or to-do lists to break down your plans into smaller, more manageable tasks and identify which ones are the most critical.
Once you’ve brainstormed different ideas and concepts, writing them down allows you to refer back to them later and ensure that you don’t forget anything important. Writing down your ideas also allows you to prioritize them and decide which ones are the most important. You can use a simple to-do list or a more detailed action plan to prioritize and organize your ideas.
7. Allows for More Flexibility
When you’re planning on a computer, it’s easy to get bogged down in formatting, editing, and other technical details. Writing with a pen and paper allows you to be more flexible and make changes on the fly. You can cross out, circle, or underline ideas, draw arrows to connect related concepts, and add notes and comments in the margins. This flexibility can help you adapt your plans more easily to changing circumstances or new information.
8. Create a Rough Draft of Your Plan
After you’ve brainstormed ideas and prioritized them, it’s time to create a rough draft of your plan. This can be a simple outline or a more detailed plan, depending on the complexity of your project.
Creating a rough draft allows you to see the big picture and ensure that all the pieces of your plan fit together. You can also use your rough draft to identify any potential obstacles or challenges that may arise.
Personally, I always take this approach with new ideas or possible concepts to implement in my businesses. Then I sketch the idea on a whiteboard with my team, discuss and adjust further. Then we implement the plan into project management software like ClickUp or Asana.
9. Review and Refine Your Plan
Once you’ve created a rough draft of your plan, it’s important to review and refine it. This involves looking at the plan from different angles and considering how it may be affected by different factors such as changes in the market or new technology. You can refine your plan by making changes to it based on your review, or by seeking feedback from others.
As a CEO, you can quickly benefit from using pen and paper for planning and idea generation.
By starting with a blank sheet of paper, using mind maps to organize thoughts, writing down ideas and prioritizing them, creating a rough draft of your plan, reviewing and refining your plan, and using pen and paper for note-taking and idea generation, CEOs can develop more comprehensive and effective plans.
And writing by hand can help you focus, be more creative, remember more, prioritize better, and be more flexible.
So the next time you’re planning a project or trying to make an important decision, try putting away your computer or smartphone and picking up a pen and paper instead. You may be surprised how much it helps. I do it daily and couldn’t work any other way.