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The "Back to the Future" Move to Handwritten Journals in Project Management

written by: Chris Greco • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 2/1/2016

Project managers should keep hand-written journals of projects, placing a few words on paper each day. The advantages include portability in all conditions, continuity and keeping the project “real” by referring to specific entries to gain background on past events.

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    Handwritten Journals I was giving a class on logic (my wife still is astounded by that one!) and had a friend come in to discuss his work as a chemist. He had two or three large notebooks in which he kept a journal of the compounds he used in each experiment. He told the class that this was how he kept from duplicating the experiments and helped to keep his thinking straight. He said that by writing the material down by hand, it actually made the experiment more concrete and provided him time to get the compound correct prior to trying another experiment.

    This class had a positive effect on me. Later, after being appointed project manager for a new software application, I took a large notebook and started to write at least two to three sentences a day in it. I felt a little like an explorer, making notes on the different lands that we explored, but in reality, it was whether the boss was happy with the day’s activities or whether the programmers needed assistance.

    I started taking printed emails and weekly reports and taping them inside the notebook. I placed contact names and numbers along with any other information that seemed important. I made it my mission every day to place something in that journal. Finally, the yearlong project ended and I shut the notebook for the last time.

    I found that this form of journaling was fantastic for me. First, it gave me time during the submission of each entry to remember what happened that day. If I forgot something, I would add it the next day, noting that it happened the day before, but I ALWAYS made it a point to add something about the project for that specific day. I carried the notebook around with me at all times while I was on the project and separated each day by a line so that I could put two or three days on a page. It helped save paper and kept it clear that this was the most important documentation that I could have on the project.

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    Why Handwritten Journals?

    Handwriting offers numerous benefits. First, I could write in bed before I went to sleep without bothering my wife with the “click-clack” of the keyboard. Second, I could add to it instantly by grabbing a pen or pencil. Third, I could refer to it using dates as a reference (or a more categorical separation as I saw fit). Finally, a study done years ago showed that handwriting helps the learning process, which can be impaired by using a keyboard. The concept of handwriting gives you time to think through a word, sentence or paragraph. The bottom line is that it can improve your project management documentation by highlighting different parts of the project that will live on in your mind as you write it and see it in its most elemental state.

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    What’s Next?

    So, what do we do from here? We start with the project management learning process. Currently, project management is taught through a series of automated tools or through boot camps. I propose teaching project management with NO automation, no computers and no software applications.

    If you want to teach project management tools, do so with paper templates, white board rolls that you can roll up and reuse on tables or walls or large sheets of paper. This approach gives learners the ability to take their time, use their handwriting to help them learn how to be good project managers and become much more comfortable with handwriting documentation.

    Next, make handwriting part of their everyday culture. Give managers a supply of sturdy notebooks that combine writing with creativity (I personally like the “Moleskin” brand; they are sturdy and can be carried just about anywhere and they have an elastic to keep it closed). The amount invested will be negligible considering the productivity from each manager. Placing thoughts in a medium that they possess gives them a little more control of their thoughts and successfully prevents emails that may have more emotion in them then necessary for the situation. You can never regret pressing the “send” button on a notebook journal entry.