Skip to content

Stop Typing Notes And Start Writing Them By Hand


Today, we’re talking about Richard Branson’s secret productivity tool and why you need to be handwriting your notes instead of typing them into your computer or tablet. Shocking, I know.

What you’re going to learn:

  • The tool Richard Branson claims he could not have built the Virgin Group without
  • My favorite type of notebook
  • The scientific reason why taking notes by hand is better than typing them into your computer or digital device

Key Quotes:

“The pen is mightier than the keyboard.”

Read Full Transcript

Dang, I’m feeling productive. How about you? Welcome to the show. I’m Kevin Kruse and I’m sharing tips and advice from my new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs. That’s got to be the longest book title in history. In the last episode, we covered how George Bush, even while as a sitting president, was able to read 95 books a year. Today, we’re talking about Richard Branson’s secret productivity tool and why you need to be handwriting your notes instead of typing them into your computer or tablet. Shocking, I know.

Hey, first I want to send you a quick start action plan so you can 10X your productivity. All you need to do to get it is send a text message to 44-222 with the word “achieve” or go to the website Now, let’s dive in.

It turns out that many, many of the greatest minds in history consider a notebook, a simple notebook, to be one of their prized possessions. Indeed, Richard Branson talks about this a lot. Obviously, Branson’s the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, very colorful character. He said once that the little notebook in his back pocket is his prized possession. He said, “I could never have built the Virgin Group to the size it is without those few bits of paper.” Billionaire Aristotle Onassis, he was a big shipping magnet. He used to always give advice that he called his Million Dollar Lesson. He said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. That is a million dollar lesson that they don’t teach you in business school.”

Once you kind of know about this notebook secret, you’re going to start hearing it everywhere you go. It’s like when you buy a Honda Civic and then you see all the other Honda Civics on the road, it’s the same kind of thing. I was listening just two days ago to an interview on the Mixergy Podcast with John Lee Dumas. Now, John Lee Dumas, of course, has his own podcast called Entrepreneur on Fire, but he was in the guest chair. He was getting interviewed. He was asked, “So if I called you at 5:30 in the morning, what would you be doing?” He said, “Well, I would be walking around the bay in San Diego, listening to podcasts, and you would see me with my notebook in my hand. I’d be jotting down ideas and takeaways and words of wisdom from the notebook.” I’m paraphrasing there. Just two days ago, John Lee Dumas makes $3 million as a solopreneur and he brings up the fact that at 5:30 in the morning, going for his power walk, he’s still got that notebook in his hand.

People always make fun of me because I’m carrying my little black notebook around. I go out to lunch with friends, it’s there. Business meetings, it’s there. It’s always with me just because you never know when you’re going to get an idea, you’re going to meet someone, someone’s going to say something, and you don’t want to rely on your memory. You want to write it down.

The only time I break that rule is sometimes if I’m jogging outside or on the treadmill or something, I don’t have the notebook on me, but I usually have my smartphone because I’m listening to a podcast or I’m pumping out some music. Sometimes I’ll stop and I’ll send myself an email, which in general, you don’t want to do this as your normal practice, but if you have no other choice, then it’s better to just send yourself an email with the little thing you thought of or the little note. Then, once you get back to your desk and you start working, it’s like, “Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” Then you transfer it into your notebook.

What type of notebook is best if this super powerful tool is a notebook? What should you go out and get if you’re not already using one? Well, for a lot of years, I was using a very large nerdy kind of, they call them an account style notebook. The brand name is Boorum and Pease, B-O-O-R-U-M and then it’s P-E-A-S-E. You can type that into Amazon and see these big books. Now, they’re large. They’re hardcover. They’re really cool, but they’re kind of expensive and, again, they’re large so they’re harder to carry around. Here’s a weird suggestion. Author, entrepreneur James Altucher, he uses waiter’s pads, you know, those little paper pads that people will take your orders on. He says, one, they’re cheap. They cost ten cents each, about the cheapest you’re going to find for a pad of paper. He says it makes a statement to people that you’re frugal with your money and they’re a great conversation starter. What in the world are you doing taking out this waiter’s pad? Where did you get that?

Now, most people that I know, and I’ve switched over, they’re using a moleskine notebook. Now, many of you probably just said, “Why did he just moleskine? Isn’t it moleskin?” Now, it’s true that most Americans call those little black notebooks moleskin. Officially, on that website, they have a blog page because everyone wants to know how you say the word. They say, “Look, you can say it anyway you want. There’s no official right way.” People who say moleskin, they often think it’s M-O-L-E-S-K-I-N. They are forgetting that there’s an E at the end of that word for that notebook. It’s a French word, which means imitation leather. I can’t speak French, but it’s moleskine is like the French pronunciation. Sometimes you even hear people say moleskine with a little accent on the E. Officially, call it anything you want. Seth Godin, when I saw him talk once at a private event and he was talking about we all send signals as to what club we belong to, like if you have an iPhone, you’re part of the iPhone club, he held up his little notebook and he said, “If you carry one of these, you’re part of a tribe.” He says, “If you call it moleskin, you’re no longer in my tribe.”

Anyway, whatever works for you. Another popular group are field notes. They’re literally called that. Field notes. You can get like a three pack for $10. That’s the style that Richard Branson uses, like a really small, you just put it in your shirt pocket or in your back pocket of your jeans, real easy to carry around. The point is have a notebook to write everything down and don’t use just loose pieces of paper that you’re going to lose. The great thing about notebooks, I’m looking right now at my bookshelf, I’ve got, I don’t know, twenty stacked up from the last fifteen years or so. It’s kind of neat to kind of have a physical record, a journal, a diary, of your life and of your career to back and to just flip through the pages and to see, “What was I doing five years ago at this time of year? What about ten years ago? What were the books I was reading and some of my takeaway notes?” It’s a great legacy to leave to your kids or to your partners or whomever that might want to see what you were working on or your words of wisdom and bright ideas over the time.

The second thing I want to talk about, really quickly, is why you should always be writing notes by hand. With digital age, you go into a conference room at work, everyone’s pulling up their iPads or their MacBook Airs and they’re typing notes throughout the meeting. Well, I’m saying don’t do that. Hand write your notes in a notebook or hand write them into your tablet. Before the haters start hate, hate, hating on this, first let me say that if you have dyslexia or some other learning condition that makes typing notes better for you than handwriting, then go ahead, do what works for you. I get a lot of hate mail on this issue. Do what’s right for you.

Before you just dismiss this idea, there was a research article called The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard published in the journal of Psychological Science in 2014. Doctors Pam Mueller, Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University and UCLA, they did three different experiments. In the first study, they had students watch a TED Talk and then take notes and then take a test 30 minutes later. Now, half the people used a laptop to type the notes in from the TED Talk, the other ones wrote it out in a notebook by hand on paper.

The laptop users and the hand-writers did score the same on the factual questions, but on the conceptual questions, the laptop-typers performed worse. Now, the researchers noticed that the laptop people were actually transcribing the TED Talk, like typing it out word-for-word, like a robot. They noticed that the hand-writers were having to take shorthand and summaries and only the key points. They said, “Listen, we’re going to do the experiment again, and laptop users, just take notes in your own words. Don’t transcribe it word-for-word.” Results were the same. Hand-writers had better recall of the material on the test that was taken a half hour later.

Now, other people say, “But yeah, if you take your notes on a laptop, you have a more complete set of notes and so when you want to review the material at a later date, study for that test at the end of the semester, you’ve got a full set of notes and that’s going to be a better study resource.” They did the test again. They delayed the test by over a week and once again, the hand-writers out performed the typers.

This Princeton research and UCLA research just confirms what a lot of people had kind of instinctually had guessed. The act of taking notes by hand involves active listening, cognitive processing, and then recalling it to put it back down, record it on the page. People who takes notes with a laptop tend to just jot down the spoken words or the shortcuts for those words and they don’t use the same mental work. The pen, the power of the pen, is mightier than the keyboard.

What can you do with this information today? Listen, if Richard Branson swears by the power of a notebook, shouldn’t you? If you’re not already using a notebook or have one that you like, just go to Get the moleskine or field notes or just type “notebook” or “journal” and get something that’s pretty that you’ll carry around with you.

Listen, I am an Evernote user. I’m sure right now, until this point, all the Evernote users are going crazy. See, Evernote is a great note classification system, filing system. I don’t think it’s a great note capturing system. I will routinely write my notes in my notebook and then scan it or take a picture of it and send it in to my Evernote. When I’m online and I want to take a screengrab or copy an article, I will do that with Evernote and send it in to Evernote. I still have that paper-based notebook. There’s some good hybrid solutions between these notebook companies and Evernote. I’m not against those. It’s more important to just be using a notebook system and to be handwriting as much as possible.

All right. Once again, I got an infographic to help you get the most from this advice. It’s called Get the Most From Your Notebook. You can download it right now, within a minute. Just send a text to 44-222 and the text is just the word “achieve” A-C-H-I-E-V-E or go to the website Extreme, a little hyphen, and download Get the Most From Your Notebook Infographic. It includes my own personal note system, my little symbols and things that I use.

Listen in to the next episode. Please come back to the next episode. I’m going to cover the seven steps you can take to cut your email time in half. It’s doable and there’s good research that shows this will work. Cut your email time in half. Hallelujah. Till then, remember master your minutes to master your life.