Why writing longhand with pen and paper could be a good thing?

How many of you write your content using pen and paper before actually getting it onto other platforms for publishing?

If you do write using pen and paper, it’s great and would love to hear your thoughts about it.

For most of us, we’d probably write on computers. I write predominantly on computers too. It’s just a much more powerful tool, more convenient, and probably could write much faster.

However, due to the nature of my work, technology burnout is inevitable. For several days during this week, I couldn’t bring myself to use a computer or even my phone to write anything. Yet, there’s a book that need writing.

This was how the decision to reintroduce pen and paper into my writing life came about. I got a lecture pad and a black ballpoint pen. Then I got down to writing.

The experience was definitely painful at first because it’s been a while since I wrote longhand using pen and paper. After finding my handwriting in a total mess and my hand aching badly, I decided to use the pen correctly and even went to google for the right way to hold the pen or pencil for that matter. Then it was time to put it into practice.

I would say there were definitely some good and bad that came out of this process.

For me, it has been therapeutic. The chance to get away from technology is just great for my mental health.

Further more, I could focus better on my writing because there’s no internet involved. No Netflix. No music. No internet browser. If you put your technological devices out of reach, you have no choice but focus on the act of writing and the story you want to tell.

The second advantage come in the form of deliberate writing. Because writing on paper meant it’s nearly impossible to change what you wrote. Unless you want to leave behind lines after lines of strikethroughs or whiteouts, every word you want to put down on paper have to be the right word. This slows down your writing and forces you to think. This has the added advantage of allowing you to identify if there’s loopholes or problems with your content. This is especially helpful for me as a pantser because I won’t run astray with my writing and create plot holes.

The third advantage was that it’s just more natural. You can do whatever you want. Scribble along the margin of the page. Skip lines. Doodle. The freedom meant you could explore your ideas and thoughts in a more natural and faster way rather than having to conform to what the computer and software forces you to do.

The fourth advantage is the permanence of the content. Unless your notebook or lecture pad end up getting soak, caught fire or the pieces of paper blown away by the wind, you can always trust that your content won’t go away. That’s unlike when you are using a computer to write. Machine can fail. Storage devices, including cloud storage, can fail or corrupt your data.

But not everything is all so shiny and great.

The biggest disadvantage with using pen and paper is the speed of writing. Your arms and hands don’t move as fast when you have to draw out the arches and lines associated with latin characters whereas with a computer, a key press means a letter. Because of that, I find it much harder to get into the flow.

The second disadvantage is you can’t edit the content like you could on the computer. Every word that you write on paper is permanently set in stone, so to speak. If you want to change something, you have to strike out what you wrote or use whiteouts. And if you are like me who makes quite a lot of mistakes when writing, you will find that your paper may end up becoming a complete mess and hard to comprehend.

As for portability, it doesn’t concern me. I always bring a backpack when I go to work and I could just shove the lecture pad in it. And when it comes to publishing, well, since I’m writing a novel, it would be much later in the writing process that I have to type them all out. With that, I’d probably do my editing concurrently. So I get to kill two birds with one stone.

Now, I won’t say every writer should write longhand using pen and paper. For most people, it would be very tedious and tiring. So if you prefer to write using your computer, then by all means do that. At the end of the day, the most important thing is getting your content out for your audience to consume and encourage them to come back for more. But if you find that your computer is getting in the way of you doing your work, then maybe it’s time to go old-school.

Meet short term goal or minimise long term pain

Every day of our lives, be it professional or personal, we’ve got to deal with situations that require us to deal with it now with quick solutions or come up with a better solution and taking the time to implement it to minimise long term pain.

Ideally, there should be a balance between the two but reality tends to force us into coming up with an immediate solution to deal with the current pain. Usually, it’s because someone above you, your customer or that a life depends on it made the issue a high priority.

And it takes someone with experience in certain situation to be able to make a decision that seemingly strike a balance.

As a software creator (I don’t call myself an engineer or developer but that’s a story for another day), I lost count of the times when I have to sacrifice the solution that’s good in the long run to deal with something that the customer wants it now. And then there’s always this “we are behind schedule” speech by the management. So much so, it makes you want to roll your eyes. It can make one feel like the management is always reacting to something and not preempting and executing on a plan.

Of course, perspective matters here. More time spent in doing something means more money spent. The manpower could be better utilised to work on something else that deliver on more value (money) to the company. Not to mention, to the customer, it’s like they don’t get their money worth of goods or services on time.

However, cutting corners on a solution just so that you can deliver on time can lead to long term pain that ultimately translate to time and money wasted.

Let’s take something that I’ve experienced at work as an example.

The system my team and I are working on requires a constant patching of data in the database. It can be either to insert new records or to fix old records with updated information. As the system is still undergoing development and deployment, the data is constantly in flux. And the customer will send us spreadsheets of data for us to do matching and patching.

And instead of spending maybe a week to build the user interface and implement the business logic that not only validates the data but to allow us to upload those spreadsheets and update the database in a few clicks and change existing data all from one UI window, my colleagues have to take the time to review through those spreadsheets. Sometimes, two persons are involved. What any one of them will do is use their eyeballs to scan through the records in order to determine whether to match and update existing records or to insert. Then they will manually write the SQL scripts to insert or update the data into the database.

No doubt the scripts run fast and the database will be patched within seconds.

However, what the project lead and management didn’t take into account of the time and effort needed to validate the data manually every time, prepare the scripts and run them. And that’s not forgetting humans can make mistakes. If the data is patched wrongly, the whole system may not work as intended and then we will need to “rush” someone down to the customer office to fix that issue. Time spent at customer office is time not spent on delivering features.

And if you are someone who panics very easily, and you have to deal with such high pressured situation, more mistakes will happen.

The management of course have a defence. Their stance is that this kind of data patching doesn’t happen often. By my last count, it has happened five times since the project started and we aren’t even at the end yet. And I suspect this data patching will repeat several more times until the end of the project. How many more, I don’t know. In fact, I’ve just recently spent half an hour to de-associate the relationships between two datasets because it wasn’t patched properly. Mind you, those de-associated relationships need to be rebuild again once the data has been reviewed and cleaned up again.

I may not be in a management role but it’s obvious to me that taking the time to build that user interface and implement the necessary business logic to help us match the data, validate the data and update the database in as few click as possible is the better option here.

And given what I know about the future plans of the company with regard to this project, the current way of doing things is just not scalable. Oh, I raised the point a lot of times but I’m always overwritten. Well, mostly.

This is what I mean by meeting short goal or minimising long term pain. There are many other examples that I could think of but this is the clearest one to me.

In conclusion, always strive for the mid-point between meeting short term goal and minimising long term pain by evaluating as much data point as possible before making a decision. It’s especially the case if it’s something that affects your persona life and you don’t have a higher up to answer to. And depending on the culture of where you live and work, you can either fight to the death for what you believe to be the right course, find a compromise or swallow your pride and let the other party win. In an asian context like the one in Singapore, you are better off choosing the last approach if you are an employee at the bottom of the ladder or an underling. Or management will make your life miserable.

When you neglect your body, everything else suffers

The market moves very fast because of technology. It has given people access to things almost instantly. In the past, they had to wait for days if not weeks before getting their hands on it.

Because of that, as a creator, you find yourself working almost non-stop just so that you don’t get drown out by the market.

Or maybe that isn’t even the real reason or excuse. It could be the fact that you are just lazy and couldn’t be bother.

In either case, the one thing that gets neglected is the body. You eat junk food because it’s cheaper and faster to get. You don’t exercise because it requires a lot of willpower for you to get out of that chair, couch or bed.

Over time, the body becomes weaker, prone to sickness and pains. Not only that, it gains more weight. With more fats, the body becomes inflamed. Before long, your body is fighting off infections and inflammation. And that affects your brain and mental health. You get depressed easily. You can’t tolerate work and life-related stresses well anymore. Tiredness and sleepiness also become very common.

And making things even worse is age. By the time you get to your thirties, your metabolism drops even more, compounding the weight problem. And failure to take care of your body leads to even more problems.

I know because I’m dealing with them now.

My lack of physical activities the past few months (especially ever since I turned 29) has given me a ton of allergies. My tummy and overall body size have become rounder and bigger. I get tired more easily. My body aches and hurts like there’s no end because of the amount of time I spend in front of a computer or a digital device. And it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

With those issues, I find myself sometimes unable to concentrate on my tasks, lacking excitement in what I do and I just want to sleep more. Now even my fiction writing also grind somewhat into a halt because my brain just isn’t able to work efficiently.

And I know now it’s not the holiday season that’s making me so lazy. Being overweight and lacking physical activity is what make me lazy and sick more often. It’s a vicious cycle really.

So what I have to do is exercise more. Get out more.

And it’s important to set goals that are more sustainable.

So my goal won’t be about losing certain amount of weight by certain time. And I know that alone isn’t sustainable for me because I tried. My goal now is that I want to feel better about myself in terms of energy level and overall health so that I can do my best work.

Now you see, don’t ever neglect your body. Treat it well and treat it right. In turn, it will treat you good.

P.S. I’m actually using the lump that is my tummy to prop up the laptop I’m using to write while I’m lying down on my bed because my back, especially the neck, is hurting. It’s embarrassing really.

Mastery and being inspired improves your productivity

Productivity is a measure of one’s output given a set period of time but it doesn’t mean quality or doing it right.

That’s my understanding of what it means when someone mention productivity these days.

Our modern economy places a high emphasis on this metric. With the advancement of technology, it is expected that everyone output 10x, 100x or even 1000x of what someone could output for the same amount of time and resource several years ago.

On a personal level, it’s suggested one sleep early and wake up early, exercise more, and maybe throw in some meditation to improve your energy level so that you can do more and faster in a short amount of time.

The 80/20 rule also applies here. One should only spent the least amount of effort to achieve the greatest result.

I for one don’t disagree with all those advices because they do help.

However, I have come to recognize that there are two more things that one should also acquire to be highly productive.

The first is mastery.

When you master something, be it copywriting, write codes, or draw art, you will find yourself doing a lot of things effortlessly because whatever it is you are doing is like muscle memory. This determine how much actual effort is spent to create something. Thus, it could take you as little as 15 minutes to do something that would taken you an hour or two when you were a novice.

I know because I have gone through that many times in my software development work. I can deliver way more than what my colleagues or friends could even when they are copying and pasting code within a set period of time. And with quality I might add.

What I did was by picking a specific area in software development and then focus all my attention on it.

For example, I picked UX/UI design and implementation for my current job and then spent weeks after weeks doing that. Right now, you can get the best possible UI (compared to my colleagues on the team and possibly my current division) from me using just the UI controls provided by Microsoft’s WPF and Telerik. I even took care of a lot of detailed stuff that help ensure a smooth and great user experience when they use the application. Something that I know for a fact my colleagues can’t do.

And I’m not boasting…Ok, maybe a little. I’m proud of what I have achieved.

My team lead saw it with his own eyes over the past year. And even my colleagues also recognize some of the stuff I have done that are better than their work. Even the customer, despite not knowing who done what, knows which part of the user interface they love the most and commented how good it was, which was done by me.

What I have realized too was you don’t need to reach 100% mastery (which is quite impossible) in something. All you need is to reach roughly 60% to 70% mastery in something and you can quite easily do anything that require you to use that skillset. Anything more than that will probably see diminishing returns and not worth your time to pursue.

The second thing to boost your productivity is being inspired.

Being a master at something isn’t enough to improve your productivity when you are completely drained and uninspired. In fact, being uninspired can reduce your productivity by some 50% or maybe more (not scientifically correct, just a gut feeling).

I have gone through days feeling depressed or uninspired. Even the thing I could have easily finished in less than an hour took me half the day and sometime, the whole day.

To feel inspired, sometime you just need to reframe your mind.

You can try to think of the problem you are trying to solve from a new perspective. This is where you need to figure out your WHY. You need to have an honest conversation with yourself about WHY you are doing what you are doing now. Once you do that, you could find the spark that you need to drive you forward.

And if that doesn’t help much, sometimes, you really do need to move around. Go for a walk or a run. Even step out of office and sit at the pantry or cafeteria can help.

Please don’t take my word at face value. Go and try the two suggestions out and see if it helps with making you more productive at work. So far, it has helped me in delivering more with quality over the last few months.

Living life without social media

Social media is one of the greatest inventions of the modern society after computers. It helped change the modus operandi of companies in how they do business with each other and with end customer. It has also shrink the world into a smaller place where communities are formed and people get together.

However, it’s not without its cons.

Articles like this, this, and this showed that social media led to decrease productivity in workplaces, increase anxiety and stress, increase depression rates, and decrease attention span. It has also led to situation where people in the same room don’t talk to each other anymore. They prefer to be looking at their screens scrolling through the feeds. They will see what their friends are doing, look at cat pictures (I do that because who doesn’t like cats…), and post curated content like images of themselves and their lives.

And you know what? Those articles aren’t wrong at all.

Auditing the time spent on social media

I decided to audit my life two days ago.

I realized I could spend up to four hours a day scrolling through Facebook news feed instead of doing anything productive. I would do it when I’m at work. I would do it while I’m on the train. I would do it while I am waiting for food to arrive. And I would even do it while my friends are around me chatting away.

I was addicted and afraid of talking to people.

And, it also took away precious time that I could use to read and write.

Excising the tumor called Facebook

I made the decision to quit social media. Unsurprisingly, the first to go was Facebook. I logged out from and uninstalled the main and messenger app from my phone and iPad.

Now, I didn’t exactly delete my account because someone once advised that keeping it around is necessary to ensure no one else attempts to masquerade as you. So what I did was to delete every single post I have ever made over the last two years and 95% of the photos on it. I removed my profile picture and cover picture. I put in a fake birthday and clear all the profile fields. There are still more posts to be deleted but it didn’t matter. The damage is done. My Facebook profile is ruined. When something is ruined, chances are you won’t go back and use it again. It would take too much effort to rebuild. Then I hit the logged out button and that was it.

What’s it like?

Although it’s only been three days, the effects were obvious. It’s especially so for me as a writer.

At first, you would feel weird like your limbs have been chopped off. There would be this void or itch that you can’t seem to scratch. When you are outside and feel like checking Facebook, you will find yourself feeling sad because the app is no longer on your phone. To make matter worse, you can’t even remember the password because it’s too long and managed by a password manager.

Then come the second day, you don’t even feel it. Well, at least in my case. I no longer have the desire to check Facebook anymore. You would find yourself feeling lighter and happier. When you are at work, you no longer stop what you were doing just to check the news feed. You can focus on your work more. And when you are traveling, you don’t check your phone as often. In my case, I brought a book along to read. You start to notice the nuances in your surroundings.

By the third day, you would actually use the freed up time to write. Again, I’m assuming you are a writer. The same could said if you like to bake or cook or play musical instruments. Now, even though you are on your computer with the password manager, you don’t even bother to open the password manager, access Facebook, and log in. The effort is just too much. You no longer feel depressed because you are not looking at other people’s well-curated life, all the nice photos of their families and friends, all the status updates of what they are doing, etc. You become more focus in what you want to do.

Don’t listen to those who claim social media is useful

Instead, I would counter that quitting social media is more useful. It will greatly improve your life, improve your productivity, your attention span, and the ability to think deeper.

And that’s how I am able to churn out this article in thirty minutes…

As Dr. Cal Newport put it during his ted talk, social media will actively prevent you from doing deep work. The ability to do deep work is ever so important in this and future economy. When you can do deep work, you are able to learn more in less time.

In that talk, you would hear him counter-argue three points people make when it comes to quitting social media. One of those point being “missing out” and the other was “my job requires it”.

Here are some other articles written by people who quit social media for a fix period of time and permanently.

Emma Fierberg wrote about how she quit social media for a month and how it was the best choice she have ever made.

John Gorman, who’s a writer, also wrote about why he quit social media and what were the benefits.

Call to action

I hope you take the chance to audit your life and determine if you should also quit social media so that you can build a better life for yourself and improve relationships that you have.