It doesn’t matter whether you are a full-time businessperson, a stay-at-home mom, a nine-to-five office worker, or a shift worker, you need a system in place to plan your day, and to organize and prioritize all your events and tasks. No plan means things get left undone, urgent jobs get pushed back, and you forget to do things.
We used to have a notepad and pen or a pile of post-it notes, but these days, digital devices have taken over. Can you remember the last time you wrote yourself a reminder? Most of use our digital devices as a calendar and reminder system, but is it the best way to go? Has a good old pen and paper been banished?
I still use a pad of paper and a pen. I even have a whiteboard on the wall by my desk, with all my daily tasks on it, but many think that’s an odd way to do things these days. I get asked, “Why don’t you just set reminders on your phone?” Apart from the fact that I don’t like my phone pinging at me every five minutes, there are scientific benefits to using a paper planner rather than a digital one. So, if you’re a die-hard digital planner, just cast your eye over these benefits.
Most people automatically think of reminders and notifications when they think of digital planners compared to paper planners. I mean, how convenient is it to have your phone ding at you when it’s time to go somewhere or do a recurring task? But think about this – how many notifications, on average, do you get every day? And how many of those reminders or notifications do you take notice of? Do you wipe them off your screen? We hear so many dings and notification popups, we’ve become desensitized, to the extent that half the time, we don’t even look at the reminder – we know that those dings are annoying, and they distract us.
Studies show that spending too much time looking at your phone screen harms your brain, so while it seems convenient to use your phone as a planner, all you are doing is compounding the issue. And be honest here, how many times have you started reading a reminder and got side-tracked by a Facebook notification? So much so that suddenly an hour has passed, an hour of wasted time.
When you use a pen and paper to write your daily plan, you give your eyes a rest, and you rest your brain from the seemingly endless number of emails and notifications you get. In short, your focus improves, and you give your brain a much-needed rest.
There’s more to pen and paper than you think, so read on!
You’ve heard this before, but probably you just brushed it aside like an old wives tale – writing things down helps you to remember them better. It is true, but there’s a bit more to it. Not only will you formulate your plans better, but handwriting also stimulates specific brain cells located at the base of your brain that help to increase your focus.
Writing is a physical activity, and that action is what triggers that part of the brain and pushes it into the high-focus mode. When you write a goal down, your brain works hard to make you remember it. A study done at the Dominican University in California found that when people wrote their goals and shared them, making themselves accountable for them, they were more than 30% more likely to stick to them than those who made mental notes about their goals.
Using a digital screen stops that brain triggering from happening; it’s like having a shield in front of you, blocking you from what you are doing. So, in simple terms, writing your planner by hand engages your brain much better than just typing them on a screen.
When you write longhand, it takes a lot more effort, but it also ensures you are to the point and concise. Sure, typing is faster and easier, but it does make it hard to refine your thoughts and be selective. If you are making the switch from paper to digital, or vice versa, check out your notes – I bet the handwritten ones are more to the point and make more sense than the digital ones.
When we write, we can clarify things, and we can connect mindfully with our tasks and goals. When you draw up a written to-do list, you can abbreviate certain things, but for long-term planners and goals, it’s better to be precise – the relationship between what we think and the language we use is very strong, so when you write a goal down, it sticks in your mind. And how convenient is it to have your goals written down, staring at you in the face?
There are far more benefits to writing your plans than just better organization. It may surprise you, but Japan, probably the top country in the world for digital technology, thrives on using pen and paper. They refer to it, in wit, as a “techno planner culture” and virtually all Japanese people take time to use pen and paper, stickers, drawings, color coding, and so on, to organize their thoughts and their day.
Lots of studies link handwriting with mindfulness and many people who seek therapy for stress-management recommend keeping a hand-written journal, simply because of how therapeutic it is. Much like meditation, writing by hand helps you to sort your thoughts out, and because it takes so much more effort, you learn to be selective about your words. That improves how you define things, such as your goals, attitudes, and feelings. As you write them down, you learn how best to deal with them.
A Healthy Habit
In the same way as writing your plans makes you more inclined to commit to them, writing in a planner is a commitment too. We tend to cling to the physical more than the digital, simply because it is real. With the digital, with a screen separating you, committing to notification or a planner tends to be lost among all the other notifications, apps, reminders, and other stuff on your computer or mobile device. When you have a physical planner or a notepad and pen on your desk, you’ve got a physical reminder to use it.
And if habits aren’t your thing, using a physical planner could be the first step in making a positive change. Research has shown that new habits take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form which means, you only really have to use a paper planner for a month or so before it becomes a habit – not long at all.
Combining all these steps leads to the critical points of productivity – writing your goals and daily activities by hand will make you more motivated, more organized, and more productive.
Now, have I managed to change your mind? If you are considering taking a paper planner for a trial run, there are a few tips to bear in mind.
Evaluate What You Need
Think about a typical day in your life. Do you get so busy that you occasionally forget things? Try a basic daily planner with dates. If you prefer to draw up long, detailed to-do lists, you want a planner that has the space for that. If you prefer a planner that you can track both long and short-term plans that helps you track things and boost your productivity, look for an appropriate planner – a yearly, page-a-day diary is the most common one.
How Much Do You Want to Spend?
Set a limit. Is a $50 planner any better than a $5 planner? Or a pad of paper and a pen? You don’t need to spend a fortune, make sure you get something that suits your needs.
Have a System
Think about what you want to write, what you want to track, and then think about how you want to do it. You could use colored stickers for indicating importance, for example. The important thing is not to make it complicated – it’s no good if you can’t read and understand your planner!
Import Your Data
If you have a digital system in place already, make sure you go through every tracking or planning app and your calendar to transfer the data over. If you have recurring goals, make sure those are added in the right places in your new paper planner, too, to make the switch as seamless as possible.
Try it For One Month
Go on, take the challenge. Try using a paper system for just one month and see how you get on with it. Set a reminder to make sure you complete your daily planner every day and try to make it into a new habit.
Productivity is directly linked to your adoption of good habits, great systems, and useful tools, as long as they work FOR you and not AGAINST you. You don’t have to go completely paper; you can have a combined system of paper and digital, again, as long as it works. And if it works, make sure you stick to it.
Some people find using manual paper planners are simply not efficient, but in an increasingly digital world, there is strong evidence in favor of using a paper planner. It could well be one of the easiest steps that you take toward being healthier and more productive.