I've started carrying around a small, thin notebook in my back pocket. It's been very nice as a memory aid. Very useful to capture simple things like shopping list items or phone numbers or general reference information that I know I will need to use in the future.

I am always intensely skeptical of people who don't bring notebooks to meetings. Sometimes I'm the only one present with a notebook. What, you think you're going to just remember the twenty details and action items that were agreed on?

I'm jealous you're going to such high-quality meetings! I'd expect tho, that if I was attending meetings that generated actual details and action items, that someone would be (explicitly) responsible to email everyone in the meeting afterwords with all of the details and action items.

6LawChan2yI generally don't bring a notebook to meetings when I expect a decent quality note-taker. I find that taking notes while listening often distracts from my ability to generate novel thoughts, especially if I'm spending more than half the time just taking notes. (And as I don't write particularly fast, this tends to happen unless I stick only to writing down a very small fraction of interesting conversations!)

Paper Trauma

by Qiaochu_Yuan 1 min read31st Jan 201863 comments


Andrew Critch thinks people should be spending more time than they currently are using paper as a working memory aid while thinking, especially large paper (for even more working memory). It is really astonishing how helpful this can be. We consistently encourage people to do it at CFAR workshops nearly every time they learn a new technique or attempt to debug themselves or each other.

Paper is both very helpful and very easy to use - so why aren't people already using it all the time (including me)? I have a few vivid memories of times at CFAR workshops where I had to prod two people who were having a cognitively intensive conversation to use paper as shared working memory, and by "people" I mean CFAR instructors. It's harder than it looks.

My guess is that people have unresolved aversions to paper coming from school, where paper was how other people forced you to do things like homework and tests.

Really, it's horrifying to think about how much of what you've written down on paper was entirely forced on you.

So, you'll need to do some work if you want to reclaim the right to write whatever you want on paper, instead of whatever you've been trained to write. Good luck. Here are some words to take with you on your way.

Just because you are writing on paper does not mean you are still in school.

Nobody is going to grade you.

This is not homework. This is not a test.

This is your mind.

This is your life.