Have you managed to stick to your New Year’s resolutions? To most of us it seems like only yesterday we were counting down the final seconds of 2019, yet by the end of this month we will be a whole quarter of the way through 2020.
A new decade, a new start; a new opportunity to really get your head down and achieve your goals. But with all of life’s little stresses, how can you make sure you get organised, avoid distractions and make the most of your time?
In fact, one of the most productive changes you can make is to step away from the keyboard and pick up your favourite pen and journal. It may seem simple, but handwriting has been proven to have a number of important benefits.
Post-it notes, scraps of paper, notes and draft messages in your phone – often we’ll reach for whatever is to hand to jot down important information, but more often than not it’s lost before it can be useful. Keep track of your goals, appointments and ideas with a dedicated pen and notebook: something you can slip into your bag, or leave on your bedside table, so you always know where to look.
Review your to-do list every morning, and ensure you’ve ticked at least one item off each night, to declutter your mind and stay focused. Lacking a bit of motivation? Take a look back through all the items crossed off your list, and marvel at just how much you’ve achieved.
We’ve all been there – you sit down at your work computer to finish a straightforward task, and before you know it you’re reading the news, browsing recipes for that night’s dinner and endlessly refreshing your Facebook page. Faced with all that modern technology has to offer, it’s a miracle anyone manages to get anything done.
So why not make it easier for yourself and remove all possibility of distraction by instead turning to pen and paper. After all, there are no apps in your favourite journal!
Not only does it remove distractions – research has shown that the very act of writing by hand has a number of cognitive benefits over word processing. Studies have found that students who handwrite their notes learn better and retain more information than peers who type: they think more intensely about what they are committing to paper, with an increased level of focus. By contrast, typing has been found to result in a shallower, less efficient processing of information. Technology is developing all the time, but in this regard it has yet to improve upon the humble pen.
Having pen and paper to hand at all times ensures we don’t forget vital information – simply make a quick note and there’s no way you can forget! But did you know that by writing thingsdown in the first place, you already stand a better chance of committing them to memory?
Research shows that regular, habitual writing improves neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to learn new things – meaning the more notes you make for yourself, the less likely you are to need them. Whether it’s an important date for the diary or a journal entry recounting the day’s events, taking time to write it out by hand will keep your life organised and your memory sharp.
There is nothing more daunting to the writer than the blank page. So close your laptop, pick up a weathered journal and a trusty pen, and try a fresh approach. For starters, you can fill that empty space with word clouds, sketches and diagrams far more intuitively than you can with a word processor. Even scruffy doodles in the margins can help – one study found that those who doodle have a higher level of information retention than those who don’t.
Writing by hand also forces you to slow down a little, and work at a more natural pace. Give yourself a little extra time to find the right way to articulate your thoughts, take a deep breath, and allow the words to flow straight from the nib of the pen onto the page.
At the end of the day, each of us is human. We are all flawed, imperfect, and – statistically – more likely than not to renege on our New Year’s resolution within the first couple of months. But we’re also creative and tenacious creatures, capable of a great many wonderful things if we can find the time and energy.
So make it easier to achieve your best: take away the distractions, sharpen your focus, and make sure you have your favourite writing tools to hand. A couple of small changes to your daily routine, and 2020 could be your best year yet!