In college, my entire life fit neatly inside my paper planner. It housed my to-do lists, class assignments, due dates, phone numbers, scribbles — you name it. These days, my phone has taken over most of those tasks, and while apps are convenient and fun to use, there was something satisfying about checking in with this planner every day.
Aside from the nostalgia factor, writing by hand forces you to slow down and approach your planning with more mindfulness. Research, like this 2006 study, by researchers Karin James of Indiana University and Laura Engelhardt, now at the University of Texas at Austin, even suggests that writing things down by hand helps you retain information better, which is a useful perk if you really don’t want to forget that important work deadline.
“Some people are going to find paper very frustrating,” said Jackie Reeve, a writer at Wirecutter, a New York Times company. “But when we interviewed experts for our planner guide, a lot of them noticed this tangible feel to paper that people prefer.” In her in-depth review of paper planners for Wirecutter, Ms. Reeve discovered a commonly cited perk of using a paper planner: the ability to keep everything in one place, instead of bouncing from app to app.
“If you’re using your phone, you’re going into different apps for different purposes,” Ms. Reeve said. “Your calendar won’t do everything: You might be using a separate to-do list app, you might be using a separate app for notes. So one of the benefits is having this one book that can have everything in it. You can have it all in one place, and it can be almost as portable as a phone.“
After years of digitizing your entire life, going back to paper can be vexing, though. If you want to make the switch, here’s how:
First, figure out how much you want to spend.
Paper planners run the gamut on pricing: They can be $100 or more. “These are beautiful leather planners, but you may get it and find that you’re just not using it,” Reeve warned. Many of the planners Ms. Reeve reviewed are in the $25 to $35 range, including the Traveler’s Notebook, their top pick.
If you’re looking for an even more affordable option, the Japan-based retailer Muji sells a basic planner, which also made Wirecutter’s list, for less than $2.
(Our notebooks, perfect as an affordable planner start at just £1.50!) Decide how much you want to spend, but consider starting small to test the waters.
Next, decide what you want your planner to do.
Make a list of things you want to be able to do with a paper planner that you’re already doing digitally. “Ask yourself, ‘what does this planner need to do for me?’ ” Ms. Reeve suggested. “And then see what checks off the boxes that you need.” To give you a guideline, Ms. Reeve said that planners typically serve one of five functions:
Strict scheduling: Look for a simple business planner that comes in monthly, weekly, daily, or even hourly formats.
Goal planning: Look for a planner that allows you to write down your to-do list and also map out and track your goals.
Artistic planning: Along with space for scheduling your planner should include pages where you can sketch and keep a journal.
Memory keeping: You might to turn your planner into a memory book of sorts, where you can use it to schedule and to scrapbook. Find a planner that encourages you to doodle or add stickers or photos to your schedule.
Bullet Journaling: Look for grid-based or plain paper planners that allow you to use the bullet Journaling method. You can keep track of tasks, as well as your schedule, using shorthand.
Before you actually buy your planner, think about what you want it to do and how you want to use it, considering these five functions. This will make it so much easier to find the right journal for the job.
Ms. Reeve recommends starting with the Traveler’s Notebook, because it’s so customisable. “You can put a calendar in it, but you don’t have to. You can use it as a notebook, you can get grid paper for it, and you can add as few or as many notebook inserts as you want,” she said. “That one is pretty great if you want to be able to control what is in your planner but not have it be too bulky.”
Narrow down your options.
Once you know the function of your planner, ask yourself some additional questions to narrow down your choices. For example, does your planner need to be portable? “There are some bigger planners that we really like,” Ms Reeve said. “They’re folio-type planners that sit on your desk, but they give you a lot more room for writing.” If you have a small desk or you move around when you work, that might not be ideal. So decide how much space you want for your writing. Will you need to take your planner with you everywhere you go, or can it live on your desk?
Consider the material, too. “One of the best things you can do is go out to a store and touch the planner, feel it and really look at it,” Ms. Reeve said. Rather than ordering online, shopping for your planner in-person will give you a better idea of the paper quality. Plus, you can also see if it will fit in your purse, laptop bag or backpack.
Finally, come up with a plan for your planner. If you’re like me, your entire life is digital, and you track your schedule with an online calendar and to-do list app. Before you ditch them completely, keep tabs on the events you track with these apps — birthdays, deadlines, random notes — then add them to your paper planner accordingly.
This sounds obvious, but if you have recurring tasks that your to-do list app adds automatically, the process can get confusing. Make a list of those recurring tasks, and don’t forget to put them on your planner each week, month or quarter. It might even help to write down those tasks on a separate page in your planner. For example, if you have a meeting at 2 p.m. every other Wednesday, write that down on a “Recurring Reminders” page that you check each time you plan out your day, week or month.
Rather than jump ship completely, you might also gradually introduce paper planning back into your life. For example, I use Google Calendar to keep track of important dates. Rather than write down these many, many dates in my new paper planner, I decided to keep my monthly digital calendar and simply use my paper planner as a weekly scheduler. Every Friday, I plan my upcoming week, look at my digital monthly calendar, and write down any important due dates. As I get into the habit of writing everything down, perhaps I’ll add my monthly schedule to the mix.
All this said, I did find one downside to using a paper planner. As portable as it may be, it will never match the accessibility of your phone, which can make scheduling difficult. For example, one night as I hopped into bed, my phone buzzed. “Can you have this assignment done by next Wednesday?” a client asked. I wanted to check my schedule and email her back, but I remembered I wasn’t using my digital app anymore, and I didn’t have my paper planner in bed with me. “I guess this will have to wait until tomorrow,” I thought. I put down my phone and went to bed.
Come to think of it, though, maybe that’s not a bad thing.