Organizational Tools: Paper or Digital?

When I was growing up, my mother was rarely found without her agenda planner. She was particular about the style–an 8.5″x11″ spiral-bound book with a gold embossed, black leather-look cover. Each month spread over two pages in which she scrawled her busy and complex schedule in the illegible-to-anyone-but-her handwriting. It was Her Planner, but it was also a part of our family’s daily life. “Let me check my calendar” was a familiar refrain during a phone call, after we’d hand her a note about an upcoming school event, or while visiting with friends.

I believe she uses these At-a-Glance ones...

I believe she uses these At-a-Glance ones…

Ever since high school, I’ve had some version of my own calendar–a Trapper keeper, the school-issued agenda, a Moleskine daily planner.

The daily agenda has inevitably migrated to our smartphones. I am obsessed with my iPhone and am rarely without it, so it makes sense that I would use it as my main organizational and time management tool. There are certainly enough apps out there that attempt to serve this function.

My dabbles in the digital include:

  • Apple’s Calendar: I like how it coordinates mindlessly across devices. I book things like doctors’ appointments and rely heavily on the day-before reminder alarms, seeing as I rarely know the date. But in terms of a day-to-day, hour-to-hour task manager, it’s cumbersome to pull up the app, the day, the hour, etc, versus making some simple scribbles on paper (and getting that lovely high from crossing an item off).
  • PepperPlate: for meal planning. This cool little app allows you to collect recipes and build meal plans, from which it populates a shopping list (that just screams “time saver,” right?). It is fairly easy to use, although after attempting grocery shopping with it, my handwritten lists recorded on the free real estate agent notepads we get in our mailbox weekly still feel more efficient.
  • Evernote: This app seems to be an elaborate way to capture anything potentially useful you come across, and then organize these “clips” into coordinated sets. I could see this being very useful for blogging and writing, although I can also see it as an avenue to building more clutter in our lives.


And so I have more than a few of apps collecting digital dust in my app graveyard–that last half-empty page of apps that I never bother swiping over to. There is just something about the span of a calendar across paper that speaks to the type-A organizer freak in me.

So despite the phone in my pocket, I browse longingly through the planners and agenda books in the book store. As a mom, I’ve taken note of the Mommy Agenda, a planner specifically formatted for the family including things like meal planning, kids’ activities, babysitter information. There is also a whole world of printable planners out there for all types of plannng–home management, blogging, birthday tracking. I start imagining myself as some sort of hyper-organized super mom on-the-go, running my business, taking care of my kid, my home, preparing elaborate meals… So much promise contained in one little book–perhaps even a glimpse into your ideal self, planned out on paper.

It would be practically poetic if my version of Mom’s black agenda was on my phone, but I’m just not sure that’s the way for me to go. My latest (physical) agenda planner crush is Passion Planner. Actually, it resembles the Daily Schedule Template I put together based on Benjamin Franklin’s schedule, and when I first saw Passion Planner, I immediately engaged in some mental self-flagellation for not having thought of creating something like this myself (after all, the posts about Franklin’s schedule are some of my most popular, and people take the free PDF regularly). Ah well. This one is on my Christmas list!

Anyway, on a totally self-serving note, if you decide to invest in a Passion Planner for yourself, please mention that you heard of it here and include my email address: in your order. If I get some free ones, I will definitely do a give-away contest here!

What do you use to keep on track? A physical agenda, or an app on your phone or computer? Any other product raves?

15 responses to “Organizational Tools: Paper or Digital?

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  5. My phone calendar does most of my remembering these days, synced with the PC & iPad so something can beep at me but back in my corporate job I liked paper based too.

    • Haha, yes, the beeps are useful. I think I’ll continue putting reminders into my phone calendar for things like appointments, just so I can make it beep at me a couple of times, even if I’m also checking a paper daily (hopefully).

  6. I like it! Paper and pencils are much better than the screen and buttons. After all, the buttons just a little more than 100. And every line drawn by the pencil, always unique.

  7. I too am anal about the things that are to be done (as my daughter says). I would be lost with out my weekly daily calendar on my kitchen counter. I do put some on the regular calendar but I can add/delete from each day if changes need to be made. They say by having lists like this we can sleep a lot better as our brains are not trying to remember everything. Doing my list this way, I feel I am more in control. I can add things or delete them and move to another day. I always say it is a “woman’s perogative to change her mind”. lol Enjoy your lists/calendars. I don’t do mine digitally but with paper and it works great for me. Take care.

  8. Yes, Jean, I am like you. I have purchased weekly planners at
    dollar store. I fill in the dates, write down what I know at that time

    , and add to it as things come up. Surprisingly, when I look back

    at the end of the week I am always surprised how much more I did . I can’t imagine my life without a daily calendar but I don’t use my
    phone for it.

    • Yes, I think this is one of the greatest aspects of paper–the gratification of a completed to-do list! I don’t want the tasks I’ve accomplished to disappear into a digital abyss! I want them right in front of me, as inspiration for tackling the next list!

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  9. I have an old fashioned ‘pocket’ diary with my schedule in it. I’m too impatient to type on my IPhone. My fingers just don’t work with it. Plus, I need to see a week at a time to make sure I’m not overwhelming myself with too much to do!

    • Ha! And you’re a very organized person! (or so I believe)

      Yeah, you can flip between weeks and months and days on the Calendar app but yeah, it’s just not the same. Plus, I synced my calendar with Facebook, and now every one of my FB friends’ birthdays is on my calendar. I’m sure I could easily fix this, but I just ignore it instead…

  10. It’s the least organized organizer ever, but I keep a notebook in my purse with a to-do list and schedule written out weekly, and plenty of room for all the “other” notes that happen–menus, grocery lists, brainstorms on novels-in-progress, party planning, Christmas gift ideas…The lack of specialization makes it highly usable!

    • Yes–I think that’s the benefit of paper. It’s just more flexible and less constricting. That’s important, especially if you’re busy or there’s a lot of fluidity to your schedule.

      Thanks for commenting!

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