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Brain Tricks And Writing It Down

by David Brock on January 5th, 2015

With the New Year, we are inundated with posts about goal setting, New Year resolutions, and the like.  Frankly, I’m agnostic about New Year’s resolutions–I don’t know why we limit ourselves to the New Year to reflect, analyze, and develop plans to change or set new goals to achieve.  Also, not long ago, I wrote a number of posts on Hacking Selling Part 1, and Part 2, Hacking Sales Management.  Since people continue to look for hacks, this post might fall into the category of “hacking our brains to produce better results.”

But, for whatever you do, I wanted to write about the process—how we reflect, analyze, establish goals, commit to them and take action.

There’s also a lot of good advice on this—for example, making them measurable, time based, etc.

But there’s a trick to internalizing them, and improving our ability to remember and execute them.

The trick is pretty simple, it’s simply writing things down.  This process applies to everything we do, not just New Year resolutions, but account/territory plans, deal plans, call plans, performance/development plans, business strategies–anything.

Writing it down improves our ability to execute and achieve the goal.  It’s not just for the obvious reason of documenting and having notes that we can use to follow up.

There’s something about the act of “writing” and how our brains process what we are doing that has a profound impact on what we do.  There’s an emerging base of research on this issue, it presents some pretty interesting data.

It turns out there are certain cognitive processes involved in the act of writing and how the brain processes new ideas, thoughts, whatever it is we are doing.  Writing things down requires us to organize what we are doing, to figure out how we want to express the idea, how we want to capture it.  This analytical process is happening in real time as we figure out what we want to write and put it on paper.  While not scientific, I tend to think of it as an “imprinting” process.

So writing it down has more of an impact than just helping our memories, or to document our plans.  Writing it down helps us think and analyze in ways we wouldn’t without writing things down.

There’s some more data about writing things down, that’s even more intriguing.  Which is better, “typing it into our computers, phones, or other devices,” or “taking pen to paper.”  I was surprised in reading the research, but it turns out, old school techniques rule.  Pen (or pencil) and Paper produce better results.  I’m not sure what it is, simplistically, I think it’s some sort of mind/body connection and the physical act of writing engages this process more effectively than a keyboard.

So if you really want to accomplish something–whether it’s achieving your New Year’s resolutions, developing your call plan, deal strategy, developing a business strategy or new program-write it down!  Long hand is better, but even if you key it in, write it down.  ( A hack a friend taught me about capturing my long hand on a system, is to take a picture of my notes and attach it to CRM, put it in Evernote, or some other online tool.)

If you are interested in the research, here are a couple articles:

  1. Tim Rethlake permalink

    Solid post, thanks for that.
    Not to muddy the waters, but I wonder about “long hand apps” like Penultimate or Note Shelf. Does “pen to glass” yield the same eMedia as pen to paper?

    • Tim, thanks for the comment, you raise a great question. Actually, when you dive into the research, they think very highly of the potential of using pen/stylus based apps on tablets, etc. It seems this has the same impact as pen to paper. They go through a lot of explanations about the difference between typing, transcribing, and writing in long hand. Most of the research shows value in each (over doing nothing), but the long hand form produces the most sustainable results.

  2. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, excellent post on the neuroscience of learning and effective strategies to be smart thinkers. As a follow up to being effective learners check out the excellent course – Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects – Coursera,org – – at no charge.
    Here is another tip “Readers are Leaders” – Col, John Church, USMC

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