Paper or digital notes? How to get the best of both worlds

Rasmus Ursem
6 min readJan 29

I am always trying to optimize my work processes to make them faster, more reliable, and yield better outcomes. One of my key processes is how I take meeting notes and store them for later retrieval. From a top-level perspective, you can either do handwritten notes on paper or digital notes in some sort of note-taking system. Both have their advantages and disadvantages — this article describes how to mix them to get the best of both worlds.

Handwritten notes ready to digitize (author’s creation)

Paper notes vs digital notes

There are several key aspects in any note-taking system worth considering before settling on a preferred approach.

Writing text-only notes

Typing speed on a keyboard is for most people significantly faster than writing in hand. It is also more readable and the imminent digitalization of your notes allows editing on the fly. In contrast, hand-written notes take more effort to write and it is harder to add additional text in the middle of the note. Handwritten notes may be easier to recall due to the motor skills employed in the writing process. It is unfortunately also easy to get distracted on a computer or tablet if the meeting does not call for your full attention. Regarding paper vs digital, I would call it a draw on this point.

Writing text notes with figures

Nothing beats pen and paper as soon as you need figures to assist the text in your notes. I have tried several apps for drawing and it is nearly impossible to have your attention split between the app and what is going on in the meeting. I have seen one person successfully use an app for making digital drawings in a meeting. We had hired a consultant at some point and he was a true master of OneNote. It worked in the few meetings I had with him because he shared his screen, it was a touch screen, he had a digital pen and he had done this a gazillion times. For the rest of us mortals, I would say this note-taking task is a clear win for the pen-and-paper approach.

Capturing TODOs and questions

I often find myself not only taking notes, but also noting down TODOs, questions, and other things I need to process after the meeting. On paper, I write my…

Rasmus Ursem

Computer & data scientist, writer, thinker, photographer, and generally curious about life and the wet matter between our ears — in short, I’m a poly-geek :-)