We’re living in a digital world—one where screens dominate our time. The average American adult spends three hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices, according to 2019 research by eMarketer. This doesn’t include the time spent on a computer at work or parked in front of the television at home.
It’s easy to find an app or software platform to help you do run your life, making paper and pen feel old-school. But paper products offer advantages that tech does not. Here are five times when you should choose analog over digital:
When you need to recall something
“One of the biggest assets that paper can provide is that it stimulates our reticular activating system,” says Holland Haiis, digital detox expert for How Life Unfolds, the consumer content site for the Paper and Packaging Board. “It boosts learning and helps with goal achievement by providing better recall and performance.”
This reticular activating system is responsible for filtering out unnecessary information, helping with memory. Instead of taking notes on a smartphone or laptop, use a journal or notebook to record important information you need to remember. For example, if you are working on a speech you want to deliver with fewer notes or slides, consider writing it by hand to boost retention.
When you need a fast option
“If you only have a short list, a simple calendar, or a small number of contacts to keep track of, paper is faster and easier,” she says. “You can grab a pen and paper and write out a few words much faster than you can open your digital device, locate the app or program, and type in those same few words.”
Retrieving the info can also be quicker, says Hofler. “Just a glance at the paper or page,” she says. “Paper doesn’t go to sleep or run out of power as a digital device can. Another advantage: A single piece of paper is more portable than even the smallest device.”
When you need to focus
When you are working with paper tools, your focus is increased, and you cannot attempt to multitask, says Haiis. “When we hold a device, we are subject to its rings, tings, pings,” she says. “The more we task switch, the more we get into brain fog and burnout.”
Paper commands your focus in and doesn’t have built-in distractions that can take you off track. If you need to finish an important project or get caught up on reading, consider paper tools instead of digital.
When you have an important meeting
Paper can help foster deeper collaboration during meetings because it doesn’t distract. If people take notes in a meeting with laptops, however, it can be too tempting to check email. When you’re looking for an email, you’re not contributing, says Haiis.
“Any time you are distracted by a device, you go into less depth with a conversation,” she says. “This creates less trust and less camaraderie. If you’re going to move projects forward, you need to work together as a team. Too often, we meet a week later and wonder why we haven’t moved forward. It’s because the meeting didn’t have our attention.”
Make a policy of no technology in meetings, and use paper to take notes instead of your laptop or phone.
When you don’t want things to fall through the cracks
Out of sight is out of mind, and if you store notes or to-do lists in a digital app, it can be easy to overlook them.
“You can’t accomplish what you need to do if you don’t know what that is,” says Debra Eckerling, author of the upcoming book Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals.
She recommends creating a dedicated notebook for your to-do lists, keeping it in the same location on your desk. “That way, you always know where to find your upcoming tasks and action items,” says Eckerling.
At the beginning of each week, put the date at the top of a new page and make as detailed a list as possible. Eckerling recommends dividing your list into categories, clients, or projects. “Whatever makes the most sense,” she says.
While it’s nice to have a digital copy of your to-dos, the value of paper is manifold, says Eckerling. “Having your to-dos on paper, where you can check off items as you do them, enables you to be more productive,” she says. “It’s also less likely for things to fall through the cracks.”
Haiis notes that many of us are drawn to digital tools because of the dopamine hit you get when you get a new notification. You can get just as many when you use paper tools, such as crossing something off a to-do list or using colorful tools to make notes visually stimulating, she says.
“When you partner paper with your devices, you get a better balance, professionally and personally,” says Haiis.