As a software developer I work pretty much all day with a computer. During this time I’ll be engaged in various tasks such as writing code, debugging, testing, database design and problem solving. The natural inclination for me is to do all these tasks on the computer. There are so many great software tools available that it’s easy to find something that works for the current task and thus do it all on the screen.

As much as I love working on my computer, I’ve been discovering the power in using a different medium: a piece of paper and a pen (or pencil). There is something about using a pen and actually moving your hand that seems to help me when I’m working through a tough problem. I find it helps tap into the more creative “R-mode” thinking processes.

Just today I was struggling with a feature that never really worked the way it was supposed to. The code itself executed without any errors and all the tests returned green. But the code was not the problem, rather it was one of system design and quite an elusive one at that. No matter how I attacked the problem using the various tools on my computer I just couldn’t see it.

I needed to look at the problem from a completely different perspective in order to see the solution.

That’s when I took out a piece of paper and a pen, and started to work through the problem from the ground-up. I wrote out how the feature should work and then drew out what supporting system design would thus be required. It was not long before a real solution emerged. Here was a problem that had been nagging me on and off for weeks and within 30 minutes of working it out on a piece of paper, the solution became obvious.

So the next time you’re working through a hard problem, step back from the computer and see if an old-fashioned paper and pen works its magic for you