Have you ever thought about time travel? It’s the subject of countless movie and TV plots. Most of us have fantasized about it.

If you could go back to some previous point in your life, when and where would you go? What would you change? More importantly, what would you do exactly the same?

Join me in a 40-year journey through time

In this mythical journey, I am going back to my freshman year as a student at Jacksonville State University. I look in my backpack and find my laptop computer has made the trip with me and is fully loaded with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Even stranger, that computer connects to the Internet of 2017. Finally, I land in 1977 with all the knowledge about technology that I have today.

How will I approach my 1977 classes armed with 2017 technology? Specifically, how would I approach note taking? I sit down in class, open the backpack, pull out the laptop, so that I can get to something else behind it…a clipboard.

Yes, a clipboard for note taking

As the professor talks, pen and paper trap the notes. Surprised? I’m not worried about how neat the writing is. Not sure about the spelling of a word? Circle it and keep going. Not sure which points are important and which are filler? No problem. Get it all down. That’s my approach to note taking.

The magic happens later in the day. The laptop comes out of the bag. The clipboard and laptop go side-by-side, and the process of turning mush into gold begins.

In class, spelling didn’t matter. As the words go from the wooden clipboard to the laptop, spelling becomes huge. Throw the mysterious word into Google and watch it fix your error. In class, the formatting didn’t matter. As the words go on the screen, a neat outline format is everything. In class, it was hard to tell whether the professor’s cute story was important. Now that the lecture is over, we know the story was central to every point he made. Or, we now know the story was fluff.

One thing at a time

The tech-savvy student may multi-task to “save time.” He traps the content and formats it all at the same time. The problem…he usually does a poor job of both.

I would rather concentrate on one thing at a time. Trap the information on paper. Engage with the lecture. Participate in the discussion. Be present in the moment. Later, turn the rough copy into a pristine, digitized outline.

This process of taking notes and then organizing them later accomplishes two important things. First, most forgetting happens within a day of hearing new material. Interacting with it again within hours helps make the learning permanent. Making decisions about what is important and how each point fits into the whole adds understanding. In the end, you require less study time.

Secondly, when it comes time to study for the big test, a pristine set of notes sure beats what you might bang out on the screen during the lecture. Note taking has to be a step-step procedure.

The right tool for the right job

When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Technology is great. I am composing this article at the keyboard. But when the phone rings, I grab a pen and write in the journal on my desk.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently? What would you do exactly the same? Let me know in the comments.