You've probably read about brain-boosting drugs and memory-boosting computer games and you've definitely read (or saw the commercials) all about how computers and smartphones will make us all into creative geniuses.

Well, it turns out the most powerful brain-boosting tool doesn't come in a bottle or on a screen. It's an item that's been knocking around in your desk drawer for, well, pretty much for forever: the common pencil.

According to the latest scientific , using a pencil or pen exercises and strengthens your brain in ways that a drug or a computer simply can't match. Here are the facts:

1. You learn faster.

University students in both laboratory tests and classrooms learn better when they take notes by hand rather than on a computer, according to UCLA psychologists Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer.

The improved performance isn't because computers are more distracting (although they are) but because handwriting involves "a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding." (Source: NY Times).

In my own case, I long ago stopped taking meeting notes on the computer but instead take hardcopy notes. Even though I can type as fast than most people can talk, I retain more substance of the conversation when I summarize by hand.

2. You're more creative.

According to a study conducted at the University of Washington and cited in Futurity magazine, children who hand-write essays write better and faster than children who use a keyboard.

This performance improvement apparently continues into adulthood. "Brain imaging studies with adults have shown an advantage for forming letters or selecting or viewing letters," explains the study's author, professor Virginia Berninger.

For example, the most prolific writer I've ever met, Gregory P. Norris, hand-writes all his drafts. I personally watched him write an entire novella (about 35,000 words) during a single weekend writer's retreat.

As an aside, while I currently write using a keyboard, I wrote the drafts of my first few books out in pencil. Given the evidence, I'm wondering if maybe I should return to that method.

3. You're more focused.

One of great liabilities of keyboards is that they're connected to screens that are connected to the Internet. As a result, there is always something to distract you from getting your work done. That's especially true if your work requires creative thought.

According to research conducted at the UCI and quoted in the Washington Post,

"the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off."

While the modern office (especially those wretched open plan offices) are full of distractions, the insistent pressure of checking email or browsing the news can ruin your productivity even if you're working from home.

Getting away from keyboard-and-screen and taking up pencil-and-paper moves you immediately into a mental and physical place where you're less likely to be distracted.

Personally, I've tried a dozen times to do my planning and creative work on a computer. Again, even though I'm a very fast typist, I keep returning to my Franklin binder and paper day-planner.

Now, to be precise, when I'm writing by hand, I use an Extra Fine Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball pen (cost: about $1). However, for years I used a regular #2 pencil and a high quality pencil can be bought for, yes, about sixteen cents.

That's not much to pay to make yourself a whole lot smarter.

Published on: Nov 23, 2016
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