17 October 2013

Guest Post - Digital Vs Paper Planning - Carie

We live in a time of amazing technological advances. It is feasible that I could go through an entire day of consuming information without ever touching a piece of paper.

Feasible, yes. Likely? No.

I love my devices, I really do. So much, in fact, that I switched to digital planning after using paper planners for more than 20 years.

And then I switched back.

After a year of trying everything I could to get my digital planner to do what I could do with my paper planner with little to no effort, I acquiesced.

My perspective on the whole Digital Vs. Paper Thing is partially formed by the time I spent working in a bookstore. When we started selling e-readers, I was given the dubious task of 'Being In Charge'. I spent a lot of my time listening to people tell me that e-readers would be the downfall of Western Civilization.


The advent of e-readers and PDAs meant that there would be no more books or planners. Anywhere. Ever again.

My response to this was simple: I reached into my drawer and pulled out my paper planner. These customers knew that I was very well-informed regarding the uses of digital products; most were shocked to discover what a lover of paper I am.

I tell you all of that to tell you this...

You should plan in a way that works for you. There is no Right or Wrong Way. I personally, honestly, don't believe that technology will be the death of The Written Word. However, if you're looking for some insight into why some of us love our paper while others love their devices, here's a little (ok, let's be honest... it's long-winded because I'm fascinated with this topic) list I compiled of the benefits and drawbacks of both.


Tablet Pro: A tablet makes it terrifically easy to take all sorts of things with you anywhere on just one device. Making room in a messenger bag or purse for a tablet can be far easier than finding room for a stuffed planner. That's just a fact.

Paper Pro: If you prefer planning on paper, you probably just adjust what you carry in your bag or change bags entirely to accommodate your planner because it works for you.


Tablet Pro: If you juggle a lot of calendar appointments, multiple calendars, or put your tasks right on your calendar, the right app can truly make your calendar end up looking quite organized and pretty, what with the color-coding and all.

Paper Pro: One of my biggest issues with digital planning was that I simply didn't like how my calendar & tasks looked digitally. I missed tabs. I missed post-its. I could never make my digital calendar pages look like this:

Recurring appointments & tasks.

Tablet Pro: Again, the right app can make or break a digital calendar. The ability to drag & drop or copy & paste your appointments or tasks is an incredible timesaver. Additionally, setting a recurring appointment or task and having the app automatically repeat it for you saves a lot of writing. This is, however, where my troubles with digital planning began. Those recurring tasks and appointments were suddenly multiplying like bunnies. Of course, I assumed that the tribble-like characteristics of my multitude of repeating tasks was simply due to an "ID10T" error; yes, I thought I was somehow screwing it up. After tons of research and using many different apps, I found that this is simply a ghost in the machine, so to speak. A bug. And a very annoying one at that.

Paper Pro: First of all, if I'm writing things down by hand my tasks won't multiply all by themselves. Enough said. I can also cut down on repeatedly writing repeating tasks by using sticky notes and just moving them when and where it is appropriate.

While we're talking about writing things down, let's look a little closer at the issue here. We write these things down because we want to remember to do them. Simple enough. But the physical act of writing down all of the Important Things does something to your brain that typing just doesn't do. The act of writing stimulates an area of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). This lovely little bunch of cells nestled at the base of your brain is a kind of filter for everything your brain needs to focus on at any given moment. As Henriette Anne Klauser puts it in her book Write It Down, Make It Happen, triggering the RAS "sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: 'Wake up! Pay attention! Don't miss this detail!'"

And that is where my digital dreams fell apart. I was typing all of these tasks and goals and appointments into my iPad, and that was unfortunately where they tended to stay.

Especially the Goals.

Writing my goals on paper made them more tangible, more attainable, than typing them onto any screen ever could. The whole point in making the effort to set goals and then pursue them is to complete them. Typing my goals into even the most sophisticated project planning app still left me with a hazy perspective on what I was striving for.

That, right there, is why I don't think Digital will ever kill Paper. Our brains harbor an innate yearning for the physical act of writing. Putting pen to paper and letting your ideas and goals spring forth brings focus to what would otherwise seem blurry or unattainable.

Thank you Carie for an excellent guest post and insight in to your thoughts on the differences in planners


  1. Thanks so much for this wonderfully insightful post. I too have lurched back and forth between the two, I love my apps and tablet, but there is just something about writing it down! Also if I use my tablet for everything, then my lovely kids think I spend all day having "screentime" while they only get a limited amount of "screentime"!
    Love the post x

  2. Thanks so much for this wonderfully insightful post. I too have lurched back and forth between the two, I love my apps and tablet, but there is just something about writing it down! Also if I use my tablet for everything, then my lovely kids think I spend all day having "screentime" while they only get a limited amount of "screentime"!
    Love the post x

  3. I agree, thank you for a fantastic post.
    I use a mixture of digital & paper, & enjoy using both. However, sometimes after a day at work, I've just had enough of looking at a screen & it's a relief to curl up with a book & a Filofax.

  4. I love your writing... now go write that book..

  5. Loved your post--I've often thought about this; the pros and cons for both methods are impressive. As you've said, it's really a personal choice of what works best for you.
    By the way, the book you've referenced is not available, for copyright reasons, in the US.
    Fantastic post!

  6. It should totally be what works for you. People claiming there is one best way should accept that it may be the best way for them but not for everyone. When it comes to planning I am paper all the way. My brain seems to think that entering something in a device is the same as completing the task. Don't know why, just does. However my husband appears to think in 1s and 0s and hardly ever uses paper.

  7. I used Cozi because it was handy to link up family members, but it was the "multiplying bunnies" and MIA's that scared me and sent me running back to paper.

  8. That's a great post. I tried and tried to go digital when all the "neat stuff" appeared 10 - 15 years ago. It never worked, and I ran back to my paper. For all the reasons Carie lists, and the RAS I didn't know about. I just knew when it went on paper, I remembered and stayed alot more organized.

    Now I know why.

  9. I am not a visual person; digital planning apps drive me crazy with all the colors and layers and I find that I cannot decipher the calendar. Looking at your sample above, the paper view looks totally straight-forward and rational; the tablet view looks like a lot of color and is meaningless to me. I realize that a lot of people understand visuals better, but for me I find linear text much more useful and immediately comprehensible. Unfortunately we seem to be moving into an illiterate world where text is considered passé.

  10. Some people say that we write things into planners so that we don´t have to remember them, which is totally true - but I find that I am way more likely to remember something if I´ve written it down. I have always found this to be the case for me, from revising for exams through to packing my suitcase :-)

  11. Love your post. Reticular Activating System (RAS) - one more reason to use paper and pen.

  12. Which calendar app are you using on the iPad? I like the look of the interface . . .

    1. I was going to ask the same question. I do use both digital and paper. The difference is that digital is meant for reference (and multiple calendars) and paper is for the nitty gritty details of my every day life.

  13. The book is actually available on Amazon. Here's the link for Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Write-Down-Make-Happen-ebook/dp/B000FC0X1O/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1382056328&sr=1-1&keywords=write+it+down+make+it+happen

    I've played around with a combination of digital and paper but I have to have just one tool and paper can do it all for me.