Your smart phone has everything you need to do your work. Why bother with a paper planner? For the past six months I’ve been comparing the benefits of a paper planner with my usual online tools to answer that very question. I found three redeeming benefits defending paper planner productivity. Will they work for you?
My Paper Planner History
Way back in the late 1980’s I became a devoted user of the Franklin Planner and H.W. Smith’s Time Management System. [HT: Lisa my friend] It served me well over the years and helped me accomplish a great deal more than I would have without such a system.
Once the smart phone hit the market, things changed. The paper planner didn’t keep up with my digital world and became redundant. Eventually, I abandoned paper completely for the sleek, mobile, in-my-pocket productivity of the smart phone.
Everything Old is New Again
Ever learning and looking for productivity improvements for myself and my clients, I’ve experimented with a variety of techniques (GTD, Bullet Journal, and Pomodoro). Much of what I’ve tried has influenced my time management approach but I still yearn for the days of the Franklin Planner. There was something missing in the digital world and I was feeling a little nostalgia.
That’s when it happened.
During a business meeting with Monica of MY-Designs.net I noticed she was using a new planner to organize her work, and she was getting more done. After coveting her beautifully designed planner (affiliate link), I was curious and decided to buy my own and begin my experiment. Could this really help me?
Paper Planner Productivity Experiment
Like any new relationship, my planner and I went through a few well known phases.
The Honeymoon Phase
If you’ve ever been a devotee of a planner system, you know the feeling. Actually it’s the feeling you get when you unbox anything new with the promise of something more. The key elements from this phase:
1. The excitement of something new was enough for me to take the planner with me everywhere.
2. The possibilities promised by a clean slate. New ideas, new way of planning, organizing, and seeing my ideas come to life.
3. Nostalgia for the days I felt more organized, under control, and productive.
The Bad Habits Phase
When the honeymoon is over, things start to become stale. The excitement of doing things for the first time is replaced by the dullness of repetition. My discoveries from this phase:
1. I became frustrated with my process as I was duplicating everything from my digital world onto my paper planner and vice-versa.
2. Though it was great at the time, the planner clearly had limitations I couldn’t ignore. I was used to being able to search for items quickly, make changes without making a mess of the paper, and let’s not even talk about creating recurring appointments in a paper planner.
3. A planner that has everything I needed in one place doesn’t exist. I found myself creating new pages and sections to the point I even considered designing my own planner.
4. My modified paper planner became cumbersome and not so mobile. I often left it on my desk which made it difficult to reference on demand.
Getting My Paper Planner Grove Back
In the final stages of my experiment I realized I was trying to recreate my Franklin Planner experience in vain. Those days are gone. It’s time for a new approach, one that blends digital and paper planner productivity.
To reap the benefits from a paper planner you must first recognize It’s not a replacement for your online tools, rather a supplement to boost your productivity where it counts. For me it had the most impact in the following:
1. Daily Planning and Solitude.
One of the most impactful elements of the Franklin Planner system is the daily 15 minute session of planning and solitude. Modeled after Ben Franklin’s habits it focuses on setting the day’s priorities without distraction.
I tried to do this using my smartphone, but those pesky little red notification dots were too tempting. Before I knew it I was distracted by news, email, and social media and my priorities suffered.
The paper planner allows me to spend my planning and solitude time – unplugged and focused.
2. Monthly Reviews
Each month I try new processes, tools, and approaches to continually learn and improve my business. At the end of the month I conduct a review to decide whether or not they’ve added value.
I use the monthly calendar view of the paper planner to create a visual dashboard of whatever I’m testing. Each day of the month I record something that indicates the progress and at the end of the month I have an easy way of making my assessment.
3. Quarterly Planning
The biggest benefit of a paper planner for me is the big picture it provides. Being able to look at monthly, quarterly, even annual goals and write those goals out on the calendar helps to visualize the end results.
Then conduct a quarterly review to determine if you’re on track or need to make an adjustment.
Unplug and focus are the key benefits. No matter how you use your online tools, consider how a paper planner, or other old-school tool, can increase your productivity.