Learn to Think on Paper

 In Design, Marketing, Marketing

The very act of putting your ideas on paper forces you to think. I take advantage of this practice constantly. Every morning, I get up before dawn and drink coffee while I write my ideas out on legal pads in longhand. I might have a whole stack of them in front of me, where I explore different ideas.


When you do this, you don’t box yourself in; you try to look at all the possibilities. You brainstorm a little. You can play with concepts like, “In a perfect world, here’s what I could do,” or, “If I had Godlike superpowers, and I could do anything I wanted, what would I do?”

Try to stretch your thinking, which is very easy if you do it paper. Have fun with it, make it a creative process, and consider all the different kinds of possibilities. I think most entrepreneurs and business owners can benefit from doing this. Whenever you’re confused or frustrated, grab some paper and just start writing and thinking it through.

I may sound a little bit esoteric here, but here’s something I think all of us might be able to agree on: that we all have something that some people call our “higher side” or “better side.” There’s a unique wisdom available when we tap into our creative sides where, if you just dream a little-or dream a lot-and think on paper, you can come upon some excellent insights. You open yourself up to something special. It’s all part of the creative process. Creativity mostly involves combining various ideas and trying to find new ways to hook them together and make them work. You have to do that on paper. You can write down all kinds of dumb stuff, and nobody has to see it. You can throw it away, you can burn it, shred it, whatever.

There’s just something significant about committing your words to paper. This is especially valuable when you’re in the abstract stage, when you’re thinking broadly. Often, what happens is that a thousand ideas run through your head… but only a few hundred, or maybe only a few dozen, will actually stick in your brain long enough for you to remember them. In other words, if you try to keep all your thoughts in your head, you’ll lose most of them. Writing them down saves them. So there’s that aspect to consider; and of course, thinking on paper makes you think things through in a more linear fashion than thought allows. You’re processing your thoughts as you write.

Not everyone does it the same way, of course; in fact, not everyone uses traditional paper. My marketing director prefers to type his ideas into a Word file on a computer, because he types faster than he writes and his hand cramps easily. Once he’s got a file full of notes, he can print them out and edit by hand. Other people might prefer to use a tablet computer. The point is, whether you use paper or a computer, your thoughts become clearer as you work through the ideas. You end up adding things you wouldn’t have otherwise. A one-line idea can become a full paragraph just by fleshing it out a little, thinking it through, and adding some new touches here and there. When it’s on paper, you can keep a file full of all those ideas and refer back to them at will.

New ideas often need to sit for a few days in order to mature. Well, when it’s on paper (or on electrons in a computer file!), you can let it sit there for as long as you like, then come back to it whenever you feel is best. You’ll have a fresh perspective on it, and you’ll probably be able to things through a little more and elaborate on it.

Thinking on paper is definitely better than thinking in your head alone. Get those ideas down in black and white!

If you’re too busy to write something down, then think into a voice recorder and have someone else write up the ideas. You can pick up a voice recorder at Radio Shack or online; they’re not very expensive these days, and the cool thing is, they make them where you can record straight into MP3 or a similar digital format so you can download the file directly into your computer if you want. If you’re driving down the road and you’re thinking about a business idea, grab your voice recorder, turn it on, and just start talking the idea out. Even if it takes you an hour to drive, you’re sitting there thinking ideas through, doing good work. Once it’s on the recorder, you can find someone to transcribe your words so you can look at them later.

The point is, the act of thinking things through on paper or on audio helps clear your head a little; it helps you process what you’re thinking, and lets you explore all the angles as they relate to what you’re working on. And again, you should have fun with it while you explore. A business should be fun. It should be a creative outlet; it doesn’t have to the terribly serious sort of thing that most of us make it into.

I know people who are dead-serious all the time, and who love to find fault with things before they’re fully explored. They tend to be very detail-oriented. But new projects should be enjoyable, not huge headaches-especially at the beginning. That’s the fun stage, where we get to dream and think and air our dreams, letting our ideas grow. So do have fun with it, because it is a creative process.

Whenever you get stalled, whenever you get frustrated, just start thinking on paper, writing things out. It’s a great way to come up with new ideas, it’s a great way to stimulate your thinking… and it’s a really great way to tame some of that frustration you might have when you’re confused about something.