Choosing the Perfect Planner: Comparing Digital and Paper Options

Choosing the Perfect Planner: Comparing Digital and Paper Options

In June of 2023 I decided to conduct a little experiment using both paper and digital planners for the entire month. I wanted to see what the upsides and downsides were to each, and how they fit in to my life. Since everyone’s requirements for a planner are different here’s a little info about me and my lifestyle.

I run a small business, make social media content, and short form video, I have ADHD, and I’m an artist. I want to track  info for my shop, daily tasks, appointments, my work schedule, and other personal habits/trends. I don’t have much need for an hourly tracker because I do not have many appointments or meetings. I struggle with medium to large projects because I easily get overwhelmed trying to prioritize the smaller tasks they contain. I also wanted to do some journaling in addition to planning. I have an iPad and iPhone so those were already fully available to me when I started this experiment. On to the results.

Table Of Contents

  1. Digital Planning Benefits
  2. Paper Planning Benefits
  3. My Digital Planner Setup
  4. My Physical Planner Setup
  5. My Personal Take Away

In today’s hyper-connected world, staying organized is important, and planners have long been a popular tool for managing our schedules, tasks, and goals. With the rise of technology, digital planners have become increasingly prevalent, but can they really replace the charm and effectiveness of traditional paper planners? In this blog post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of both digital and paper planners, maybe even helping you decide which route to take yourself.

First let’s take a look at the benefits of each type of planning you might want to do.

Digital Planning Benefits:

• Accessible on multiple devices (smartphones, t ablets, laptops)

• Syncing capabilities ensure you always have your planner with you

• Easy to search, edit, and rearrange tasks

• Ability to set reminders and receive notifications

• Possibility for interactive features like checkboxes, dropdown menus, and hyperlinks

• Integration with other apps and services (e.g., calendars, to-do lists, note-taking apps)

• Ability to use different fonts, colors, and templates to suit your aesthetic preferences

• Some digital planners offer features like habit trackers, progress charts, and goal setting tools

• Quick and easy search functions to find specific tasks or entries

• Integration with cloud storage for data backup and synchronization

• Ability to set recurring tasks and reminders

• Various sorting and filtering options to prioritize tasks

Paper Planning Benefits:

• Tangible and portable, no need for electronic devices

• No learning curve; immediate use without technical knowledge

• Allows for more personalized customization with stickers, handwriting, and drawings

• No concerns about battery life or technical glitches

• Writing tasks manually can improve memory retention

• Flexibility to use any type of writing instrument and style

• Aesthetically pleasing and tactile experience, with the joy of flipping through pages

• Can help reduce screen time and provide a break from digital distractions

• Visual representation of your entire schedule at a glance

• No distractions or temptation to switch to other apps or websites

• Opportunity for more intentional planning and reflection

• Can help improve time management and focus on one task at a time

Choosing between digital planners and paper planners ultimately comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of the individual. Digital planners offer accessibility, convenience, and integration with other tools, while paper planners provide a tangible, customizable, and immersive experience. Some people might find a combination of both options to be the ideal solution. Whether you prefer the modern convenience of digital planners or the timeless appeal of paper planners, what matters most is finding a system that helps you stay organized and productive in your own unique way.

My Digital Planner Setup

Software used: 

GoodNotes on an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

Apple Calender for appointments

Microsoft To-Do app for tasks/lists/shopping

I had one notebook for planning, using a free dated planner from HappyDownloads. I used only the monthly and weekly pages.

I also had another notebook set up as a journal for some casual brain dumping and reflecting. This was setup with a simple legal page template and I did not add a lot of stickers or anything to these pages. 

My physical planner setup:

Cheap A5 planner from TEMU with Maruman A5 loose leaf, grid, paper. I used various accessories like pens, highlighters, stickers, and more. The only thing I recorded in this planner was my social media and shop stats. I did some journaling in different places but didn’t like writing in a binder as the rings got in the way of my hand (I’m a righty so the left side of the spread was too difficult to use).

I often opted for a separate notebook for journaling with Tomoe River paper in an A5 size that lays flat. The most important aspect was paper quality for me, as I like a smooth, fountain pen friendly surface. I did find the binder format useful for taking notes, and quickly jotting down information I might want to access later (like how I was exporting files from Adobe Illustrator for example). I find writing on paper a less disruptive process than opening another app when I am working on a computer.

My Personal Take Away

Digital planning makes a lot of sense if you are already on your digital devices daily. It’s also got a steeper learning curve to get a custom setup that fully works with you. The ability to search, edit, and reorganize is an aspect of digital planning that I absolutely love. My biggest “con” to digital planning is the fact that apps and software are unreliable in the long term. Pricing plans can change and you can get stuck in an app you don’t love because you have taken the time to learn how to use it. Companies get bought out and just disappear. None of this makes me feel great about using a digital planner for any official record keeping or long term use. And always make backups in different formats when you can.

As for paper planning, it really depends what feels most comfortable to you. If you grew up writing in calendars and making to do lists on paper it is a logical choice. There is no learning curve and you probably already have some paper and pens that you can use to start right now. The downside is that you need space and time to plan on paper. You might want things like highlighters, post its notes, stickers, special pens, markers, bookmarks, photos, etc. You might want folders and tape and any number of accessories to help you plan. So the physical space aspect can become cumbersome. There is also more up front cost when purchasing some physical items as compared to digital items like sticker packs and fonts. If you want an elegant planner you will have to pay high prices for the luxurious materials they’re usually made with. But there are affordable options as well.

In the end I think that digital planning ends up being more cost effective and practical in terms of space and practicality. However, paper planning provides a satisfaction I just don’t get with digital planners. Paper planning pleases the artistic side of my brain that wants to make things just for fun and as a way to reflect/relax. So what are your goals? Do you need to keep strictly organized on a specific schedule with lots of tasks and meetings that demand your full attention? Or would you rather spend time with your creative brain? Does writing things by hand help you to remember them better? Do you need a flexible setup that allows you to move things around often?

For me: I’m going to continue using a combination of both. Some days I have time to sit down with my paper planner, a bunch of stickers, and highlighters and just have fun organizing my thoughts. Some days I need to get the thoughts out of my head and into a list for some thoughtful organization at another time. Some days I love to practice my handwriting. Some days I love to practice my typing. I’m sorry there’s no clear winner here. You’ll just have to decided for yourself. Let me know in the comments what your favorite feature of digital or paper planning is?

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