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  • Writer's pictureTeresa George

I Started Using a Paper Planner Again – And My Productivity Went Up

Updated: May 7, 2019

I switched to a paper planner. I hear you…That’s so 1999. Or it may seem like going from a car to a scooter. Yes, a scooter saves on gas, but it’s so impractical, especially when the boss wants to go for lunch, and it’s raining outside, and it’s your turn to drive.

Let me give you four reasons why going back to paper might be worth considering:

1. It cuts down on frustration and never feeling enough.

2. It helps with distractions.

3. It gives you more control.

4. It helps planning big goals.

And the good news, is you don’t have to wait until January to start. Some are quarterly and some can be customized to start in whatever month it is.

For years, I’ve used Outlook for my work schedule and for my kids’ school holidays, etc. – all color coded for important meetings, conference calls, out of town travel, kids’ ballgames, etc. I needed those gazillion reminders that pop up constantly. I also put into Outlook Tasks section, those chores I didn’t want to forget, especially reoccurring ones or those way in the future. (When I went from a PC to a Mac, I still stuck with Outlook.)

For random home projects like finding a light fixture or culling old magazines by the fireplace, I used the digital app Carrot, not Outlook.

Then for daily business tasks, I’d take a legal pad, write the date at the top and put a running list of what I needed to accomplish. The key word here is running. I would put Monday’s date at the top of the page with 20 things that needed to be done. I might accomplish six of those on Monday, write down eight more things that cropped up that day, and now my list for Tuesday was at 22 items instead of 20, and I felt frustrated.

Every day, no matter how productive I was, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. My list had gotten longer, not shorter. My legal pad became a way I measured myself, and I never measured up.

Then one day, my college-age daughter showed me her paper planner. She used colored pens, even stickers. It wasn’t stodgy like the planners I used years ago that came in black, brown or maroon. These looked happy!

Because I liked how she had arranged hers, I ordered one online where she got it, Plum Paper. These books come stylized with sections. It’s the Mister Potato Head of planners. Pick the size planner, your cover, the layout of the pages inside, then select add-on sections that make sense for you. Plan on spending roughly $40-80, depending on what you want. (Other sites also customize too.) If that’s too pricey, I got my mom a planner online for $15 that’s smaller and had some of the same features but wasn’t customized. Her day isn’t as jam-packed, so it works for her. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner ($40 for one three-month book or $125 for a year’s worth) is a hardback book that combines daily To Do’s with a planning feature, to better incorporate goals into a daily routine so the goals actually get done.

So how does my new system work?

I still use Outlook for my calendar. I need my computer and phone to sync, so I can put a meeting or conference calls in one device, and it mirrors on the others. And I still put reoccurring or long-lead items in Outlook. I use the paper planner for goal setting and daily To Do’s and the Habit Tracker. So, I guess I’m a hybrid paper planner/Outlook person.

Here’s why it works for me:

It cuts down on frustration and never feeling enough.

Instead of writing 20 things on a legal pad for one day. I took stock and began scattering what I could do throughout the week. I still captured the 20 items but now I could place them more strategically in the week. As a new item comes up in the work day, if I can’t handle it right then (or don’t want to), I can still capture it in my paper planner in the future. That forced me to become more realistic about what I could accomplish in a single day.

It helps with distractions.

By going to paper to check tasks (even if I complete the tasks on a laptop or phone), I’m still reducing the amount of time I’m on my devices. That means less distractions from apps, texts, web surfing, etc. I’m not down a rabbit hole and can’t remember what I was supposed to be doing in the first place. Also, I like using 12-months-at-a-glance on two paper pages to map out projects. I’m spending more time on paper – less on a screen.

"You get more of what you measure"

And that’s a good thing.

Most people check their phone every 15 minutes – whether or not they receive a new notification, according to Larry Rosen, professor and co-author of The Distracted Mind. He says that causes anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out).

It makes me feel more in control.

I chose a weekly planner format, so I have room to put To Do’s on each day. I also use the weekly Habit Tracker. Remember those star charts in first grade. They’re back! And yes, they still work. You pick five things per day and measure them over a week. I was surprised how the simple task of giving myself a check mark was motivating. I’ve gotten out of bed to complete a forgotten quick task, just so I could give myself a check. You may only want to do some items – like going to the gym -- twice a week. This still helps you keep count. I wanted to make sure I encouraged someone daily, so I put that on there too. The old adage, you get more of what you measure definitely holds true on tracking habits.

It makes planning big goals easier.

Since the planner can be customized, I put a “Reflection” section in my planner to help with goal setting. That way my big goals don’t get swamped by my daily To Do’s. It also gave me an easy way to keep my goals top of mind.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had a paper planner, you may want to try it again. Who knows, you may like the more tranquil feeling of 1999.


Let me know in the comments

What’s the one hack you do to stay organized?

And do you like or dislike your paper planner?

1 comment

1 Comment

May 07, 2019

This email was in my spam folder. I almost missed it. But the word "productivity" caught my eye. I am an unproductive hot mess these days! When I began reading this, I wondered who was listening in on my innermost thoughts. Then I realized it was my music industry co-hort, Teresa George! Well, she wasn't actually listening in - but this post read as though she was. Back in the 90's, the company I worked for lived in a planner called Time Design. Sometimes I really miss those things with their fold out pages and color coding techniques. Thanks for sharing this Teresa ... always nice to know we're not alone in our search for organized imperfection. :)

Denise Nichols

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