We have so many choices for personal planners, between all the apps out there and the many paper planners for sale. It’s great to have options, but the sheer number of planner types can make it tough to know which one to go with.
The choice is really a subjective one—you should choose the planner that is best suited for your own productivity patterns and needs. To reach that conclusion, let’s look at some of the benefits and potential downsides of various planner types. As you read on, ask yourself, “How will this work for me?”
Paper Planners: Pros, Cons, and Options
There are several reasons why paper planners are often the preferred choice. For many, writing on paper is how we grew up, and there’s comfort in the familiarity of putting pen to paper. Familiarity can help cut down on the “pre-planning” part of planning—instead of having to become acquainted with new apps and gadgets, as with digital planners, you can dive right into getting organized. We all spent many hours in school practicing writing, and there is a comfort in returning to something we perfected during that time. Many people also prefer the tactile aspect of putting pen to paper.
Studies have demonstrated many benefits to writing things down, from increasing retention of the information to improved learning, period. One study showed that students who took notes in longhand form did better in an experiment than laptop note takers. Although “they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording,” they “did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning.” Additionally, writing by hand encourages us to slow down and pay closer attention, which is particularly important when we’re planning out our day, week, or month. Forbes.com provides several other compelling reasons why you might want to go the paper route: “Apparently sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory.”
The main con of using a paper planner is that it is less accessible. You have to always remember to bring it with you when you travel, and you have to remember where you put it! They’re bulkier than phones with digital planning apps. They are also less easily editable, meaning they can get a bit messy if you’re often crossing things out and rewriting over them.
Wirecutter.com has some great reviews and recommendations for paper planners, with insights on customizability, calendar types, paper types, binding, etc. One asset of having a paper planner that may not seem like a big deal is the beautiful journal-like quality of many of them. I actually think that aesthetics matter a great deal. You have to want to use your planner; otherwise, what’s the point of having one?
Digital Planners: Pros, Cons, and Options
In the digital age, many people prefer digital planning—because of its ease of use and its familiarity now that we spend so much of our day working on screens. Digital planners are often more “robust,” in tech-world lingo, than paper planners, with more “functionality.” There’s more interactivity and “interfacing” (okay, I’ll stop with the jargon!), with options for tagging, notifications, messaging, etc. The designers and programmers of some digital planners have done fantastic things with developing tools for list making, time management, calendar planning, and more. Good digital planners are customizable and can have some catchy visual appeal. Obviously, the bells and whistles of digital planners are much more dynamic than good-old-fashioned pen and paper. If you prefer that, go with digital over analog.
Another pro of planning apps and digital tools is that they are often accessible no matter where you are or what surface you’re using, whether you’re on a phone, tablet, computer, or even toggling between all three.
For some, the busier nature of digital planners is a huge asset, particularly if you prefer reminders. For others, it’s a nuisance. The biggest con of digital planners is that they run the risk of being distracting—which is pretty much the opposite of what you want in a planner. Even if you turn off notifications, you’re still using the planner online, where you are much more prone to distraction than paper. After all, Facebook is just a click away.
Your smartphone probably comes with some built-in productivity tools, including a calendar and the notes app. Other digital planners that are great are Todoist, Evernote, and Goodnotes. Todoist lets you rank tasks by priority, which I think is such an important aspect of planning and productivity. It integrates with other apps like Dropbox and Slack, which is helpful for keeping everything organized. Evernote lets you keep everything in one place too, from notes to web pages you want to save to checklists. And Goodnotes has some cool features, like converting handwriting to text. Plenty of other planning apps are also worth looking into, among them Trello, Asana, and Slice Planner.
How Do You Work Best?
If you’re not sure, after reading the above, which option is best for you, have no fear. A major part of developing a productivity routine is trying out different options, to see what works best for you. Many productivity apps are free, so you can test them out without making a commitment.
But whatever you decide, I urge you to pick some method of planning. As Brian Tracy says, “Every minute you spend in planning saves ten minutes in execution.” And Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Use a paper or digital planner to determine your most important priorities (MIPs) for the day, week, month, quarter, and maybe even beyond. You’ll find that when you hit the ground running with fulfilling the tasks at hand, you’ll be so much more focused and productive than if you had gotten started without any planning.
Happy writing/typing and planning!