Karthik Pasupathy (aka KP)

Pen to Paper: The Benefit of Offline Productivity

When I worked as a Technical Writer, the biggest problem I faced was I couldn’t write product copies when I was away from my computer. I was able to think and write only if I had access to a word processor or a notes app. Several times, during meetings, I would often run to my laptop or ask the designer for his laptop so that I can type in the product copy.

Spending so much time documenting my thoughts on a computer has minimized my ability to formulate my thoughts when I don’t access to a device.

Somewhere in between the classic Notepad and the modern apps like Notion and Google Docs, we’ve lost the habit of formulating our thoughts without relying on a device. For many of us, it would’ve at least been a decade since we wrote something using pen and paper.

I am not saying that it is a bad thing.

Writing has evolved in the best possible way. We now have apps that help us document all our thoughts in a structured way and provides us access to them no matter where we are. And all it takes is just a few seconds to take these thoughts directly to your target audience. It is fascinating.

But the downside of this is, we become too dependent on our devices and we end up spending too much time looking at our computer or mobile screens.

Last week I did a personal audit of how much time I spent on my laptop or smartphone each day and I found out that it was around 12–13 hours (combined). Assuming I slept 7–8 hours a day, I spent 80% of the time I am awake looking at a screen.

With every aspect of our life getting digitized, it is hard for us to not look at a screen. Be it reading a book, or writing something, we spend a big part of our day looking at some sort of a screen. But, how come nobody is talking about this?

Ignorance is Marketing

Despite knowing the ill effects of increased screen time, we are not spending enough time to discuss this issue. Instead of encouraging people to reduce their screen time, some companies and startups are coming up with new ways to promote products that increase our screen time.

One good example is blue-light filtering glasses. Despite these glasses having minimal impact in protecting us from the harmful blue light emitted from the screens (proven by studies and advised by ophthalmologists), these glasses sell like hot cakes. And there are a range of other products that convey the message that it is okay to use smartphones as much as we want.

Two years back, I went to Bangkok, and on the train, I saw a commercial for a Vitamin A undereye cream that prevents dark circles that arise to due to prolonged exposure to mobile usage.

Instead of telling us to throttle down our screen time, we’re often shown that it is okay to spend that much time on our phones and computers.

So, what should we do? How can we stay productive and at the same time reduce out daily screen time? We need to go old school. We should learn to be productive in the old pen and paper way.

Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword (I Am Not Kidding)

The old school way of documenting your thoughts on a paper, or reading a physical book stimulates the learning centre of your brain compared to typing or reading something on a gadget.

According to a 2015 study, people who wrote using a pen were better at recalling the words they had written. The practice of physically documenting our thoughts increases our ability to remember them.

Another study conducted in 2014 concluded that students learn better when they take notes on paper. Slower speeds while taking handwritten notes helps students to process and retain new information. When students who used laptops were asked to consolidate information in their notetaking, they used more words and did not reap the benefits of the handwriting group.

According to a CBS news story, “In an experiment conducted in Norway, people were given a short story to read either on a Kindle or in a paperback book; when they were quizzed later, those who read the paperback were more likely to remember plot points in the right order.”

So, the best way to stay sharp and remember more of what we learnt is by practicing offline productivity.

Offline Productivity = Limited Screen Time

The term ‘offline’ is often related to working on the computer without the internet. But being offline should be about being completely off the computer.

Identify everyday tasks that could be accomplished without the help of a computer and start doing them offline. This involves reading a book, taking notes, planning a monthly budget, making an itinerary for a vacation, outline for your next book, etc.

You can also partially switch to offline productivity when you’re performing certain online tasks.

For example, if you’re on a Zoom call and if your video is turned off, turn away from the screen and take notes using a notebook and a pen (Don’t tell me Apple pencil. It attributes to screen time again).

If you are planning to write a blog, work on the outline of your blog on a notebook. I used a notebook to write the rough draft of this blog post.

Use a physical journal like Benjamin Franklin’s (he carried around a journal with him to track his thoughts and habits) to document your thoughts and whenever possible read a physical book than buying a digital copy. (I still could not come out of this one).

Even getting as much as 1–2 hours off your daily screen time would improve your health, help you remember more of what you’ve learned, and will keep you away from distractions.

Try practicing offline productivity for a week and let me know how it is working for you.

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