Does your note book have lines on it? The chances are it does. Why? Because that’s what gets listed in the stationery order, and because that’s what you used at school to keep your handwriting neat:
‘Research findings provide strong evidence that, for the majority of children, use of lined paper facilitates more legible handwriting than unlined paper’ (Alston & Taylor 1987, p 76)
We’re conditioned to it. We write notes, we want them to be neat so we can read them again later. But the lines also condition your thinking as well as your script. They make writing words the ‘normal’ way to use a notebook. And yet so much of what we do requires illustration, demonstration, process, stakeholders, providers, flows of information and relationships. These are hard to capture in long-hand, and even harder to be accurate and descriptive. So notes miss accuracy, connection, emotion because our brain is trying to fit everything in the little spaces provided by the lines.
Essentially, for nearly everything we do, the object of our activity should be simple enough to sketch out freehand. In fact it will almost always be easier to write up, present or demonstrate later because you are thinking and recording in the same way your brain was working at the time you captured it. And most importantly, if you can’t show graphically what you are trying to achieve in a project, how easy do you think it will be to write it down long hand and expect others to understand?
Next time you finish a notebook, ask for ones free of restrictions (Note: don’t actually ask for “a book free from restrictions”, you’ll get some very strange looks). Turn it landscape whilst you scribble – amazingly this is the same format you’ll use when you type or draw them up later on on your computer. Draw shapes and connect them with links. Put large asterisks where you want to note detail or actions. Draw a smiley face where you want to describe good things (in fact scribbled graphical notes make it much easier to get away with doodling when you’re bored of the meeting – but you didn’t hear this from me!!)
Break free from your lines. And your brain and your colleagues and your clients will thank you.