For many years now, working from home was the dream scenario. No community, more time with the kids, the ability to concentrate without someone stopping by your desk, and maybe slipping out of work and having the occasional mid-day workout. The last year has taught many of us that working from home has upsides and downsides, with Zoom fatigue and a drastic uptick in screen time being a major drain on many of us.
While I find the distancing from my colleagues to be challenging and I often work more hours than I intend to, with a blurring of my personal and professional time that most of us have experienced, all the screen time is something that I find to be incredibly draining.
Meetings used to be a break from the screens, a collaborative, sometimes fun, time where my coworkers and I gathered to accomplish something together. Sure, sometimes there were disagreements and someone was inevitably late, but my meeting heavy days flew by, with the conversation, random stories about someone’s weekend, and updates about semi-related work happenings pushing the day along at a wonderful clip.
That’s not the case on video calls. Meetings are drawn out and dull, people are still paying less than complete attention (if anything it’s worse now than in 2020), and instead of getting used to all the screen time, I find it harder than ever to add another 30-minute block of computer chat to my day.
Paper Notes To The Rescue
In an effort to retrain my concentration and cut back on screen time, I’ve been handwriting notes for some months now.
During my calls, I’m not muting myself and tapping down notes to save ideas, I’m writing with pen and paper.
During a brainstorming time, I’m writing with a huge desk pad, my favorite gel pen, and enough space to scribble down anything that comes to mind.
After an important meeting I’m jotting down bulleted notes about what I learned, what insights I gained, what I missed in my previous analysis, and what I need to do next.
I’m starting my day with an honest-to-goodness piece of paper and a To Do list, not the trending productivity app, Notion (which I actually quite like), or yet another Word doc.
I’m stopped emailing myself notes when randomly having an idea at 11pm and started putting them in my work journal.
Ups and Downs
I realize paper notes are not a cure-all. One spilled cup of coffee and a week’s worth of ideas can be lost. Leave the apartment with the wrong notebook, and you’ll be totally lost if you need that ToDo list you jotted down a few hours ago. Also, I developed a passion for scribbling out what I’ve finished, which means my historical record of my ideas and actions is, well, let’s say minimal.
Even so, I’ve read that note-taking by is better for data retention, keeping the information at the ready, not sitting in a text file somewhere in the cloud. Whether this is true or not, there is something deeply therapeutic about hand writing. I find it luxurious to be able to write slowly, with a nice pen on thick paper, taking my time, not furiously typing at my keyboard for the 6th or 7th hours a day, wanting nothing more than for the typing to be over and the blue light staring back at me to be gone.
I don’t write down as much as I do when typing, but what I do write is better composed, more thoughtful, and more helpful when I visit it later.
What You Can Try
I’m still figuring things out for myself, but I’d recommend…
- Starting your day with a written To Do list
- Taking notes by hand during calls and Zoom meetings. Paying attention, but looking down at your notes when you can
- Setting aside one to two 15-minute periods during your work day to take some notes about your progress, thoughts, upcoming activities, and so on
- Ending your work day by writing down thoughts, as you would in a journal. This will set you up for the next day and calmly transition you in into your relaxation time.