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Paper vs Digital? Which is the Perfect Planner

How do you like to plan? With literally thousands of planners out there, finding your perfect planner can feel a bit like trying to find your best mate on the train station platform in rush hour. Totally impossible.

Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up the pros and cons of paper vs digital planners. So you can find the perfect path for your unique planning style (because everyone works differently).

And spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be exclusive. You can have more than one planner (and more than one type of planner). Here’s how to find the right planner for you.

A woman writing at a desk

This is everything we love about paper planners

The first paper planner was created by Robert Aitken, in 1773 America. This was the first time that people were able to use a pre-designed paper product to plan their future. Before that time, journals were mainly used as a tool to log the past but rarely to plan the future.

Since then, our love for paper planners has only grown and grown. As the world’s gotten busier and more demands have been placed on our time, paper planning has become a way to control our days and make the most out of the minutes we have available to us.

What started as a relatively simple and bland item has evolved into a colourful, diverse and joyful global collection of paper planners, giving everyone of us something to fall in love with. All whilst harnessing the power of writing by hand.

To me, typing is like work. Writing with a pen is like playing. And you can write on planes when they’re taking off and landing.”
Neil Gaiman

Unplug from digital distractions

When you pick up your paper planner, you’re unplugging from the digital world. You’re not distracted by the 50+ tabs sitting open in your browser. You’re free from the comparison trap that comes from an Instagram scroll. And your mind is clear, ready to daydream and discover what’s possible.

This is our favourite way to plan, with an open mind and a hopeful heart. You’ve got the space to explore fresh ideas, set new goals and break them down into achievable steps. All on your own terms.

Tune into the memorability of writing by hand

Writing by hand is simply a deeper experience. Research has shown that “the pen is mightier than the keyboard” when it comes to processing the information you’re writing down.

Louise Goss, editor of The Homeworker magazine, shared her experience of paper planning with us:

“I find the act of writing on paper really cements my work into my brain due to the connection from hand to brain. There have been a lot of studies showing that physically writing, rather than typing, helps with memory retention and recall.

I think writing in a paper planner really helps you to clarify things as well. It makes things real; it gives your plans and your goals a certainty and I think this helps you to commit to taking action.”

November bullet journal weekly spread

Louise is right, paper planning is linked to better memory recall. And if you ask us, we think that’s pretty important when it comes to setting your goals. Writing out your goals, schedules and to-do lists by hand means that you’re more likely to remember them.

Some theories suggest that this is due to the stronger sensory experience. 

“A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.”
Professor Van der Meer, talking to Earth.com

Feel free to tailor your planning

Although paper planners often contain guided structures to prompt those all important goals, they’re never rigid. You can write what you want wherever you want. Just like there are countless different types of journaling, there are countless different types of planning methods too.

As a study from the University of Tokyo explained,

“Physical paper allows for tangible permanence, irregular strokes, and uneven shape, like folded corners. In contrast, digital paper is uniform, has no fixed position when scrolling, and disappears when you close the app.”

Slow down, with a mindful planning process

You sit down at your computer everyday (or at least, most of us do). It’s usually for work or school, something we have to do. Almost as though we’re on autopilot.

Paper planning breaks free from that cycle. It can be a full experience, a therapeutic process. We often talk about the mental health benefits of journaling, but planning leans into a lot of that too.

You’re able to set the scene, get comfortable, light a candle and pop on your favourite tunes. All ready to indulge in a little daydreaming, some forward thinking and hopes for the future.

Hands holding a pen and coffee cup next to a To Do list

Take it with you, for a quiet moment on the go

You might think that digital planners win on the portability front. And we concede, they do! But a paper planner is still small, easy to carry and gives you that quiet moment to focus on the go.

When you open up your paper planner, you’re not distracted by email notifications and incoming calls the way you would be when opening up your phone or computer. Instead, you’re able to check what you need, take a moment to pause and then focus on the rest of your day. It’s a totally different experience.

Build your boundaries with ease

How many times have you craved a little more work-life balance?

To do that, you need boundaries. And we’ve learnt throughout the years that a separate paper planner for each area of your life can help support that. As one book closes, another opens. Making it that little bit easier to separate those different sectors of your life.

Soak up the sense of achievement

Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge just how satisfying it is when you check off all those to-dos from your list. It feels good.

As Wired magazine explains,

“[...] digital alerts and to-dos that disappear after they’re completed make the sense of accomplishment just as evanescent. Writing a task down on paper helps it stick in the brain, and a long list of crossed-out to-dos shows the day’s accomplishment.” 

When we asked travel writer Dee Nowak about the impact of paper planners on her daily life, she said

“My paper planners are very visual with colors, highlights and bullet points. And I think they help me to visualize my progress and goals in a lot more visceral and sensory way than mere black and white letters on a screen.

I also love crossing items off my to-do list! I love seeing a long row of crossed off items. It's a lot more satisfying than looking at a blank screen when everything's done.

Paper planners also make it a lot easier to keep my priorities straight. Key points go into my quarterly planner and less urgent items get pencilled in underneath. And if I'm not crossing those quarterly goals off, then I know I've gotten distracted or have let busywork take over.”

Be reminded to actually use it

In a world that’s overflowing with technology, to be able to work with something that’s tactile and hold your creations, quite literally, in the palm of your hand is incredibly special.

When you have a physical paper planner sitting on your desk, you’re reminded to check in with it every day.

Dee explains that paper planners help her to stay accountable, even when working alone.

“I work from home and I'm my own boss - I don't have colleagues to chat with or anyone to hold me accountable. And while I'm definitely a lot more productive this way, it's also often difficult to feel like I'm making progress. I don't have anyone to give me a raise or a hard-earned compliment at the end of a long day.

So I look towards my planners as a confirmation that, yes, I am moving forward little by little. This kind of progress may not always be apparent in the day-to-day slog of work, but my planners are proof that things are getting done and my work is improving.

I love looking back at old planners to realize how far I've come.”

When you enjoy looking at something, you’re going to enjoy using it. And when you enjoy using it, you’re going to use it more often. And when you use it more often, you’re more likely to see those dreams come to life…

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Sunshine yellow goal planner on a messy desk

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Let’s not forget about the convenience of digital planners

The last few decades have seen an eruption in the number of digital planners and tech tools to create systems and help you organise your life. As much as we love paper planning, this wouldn’t be a very fair article if we didn’t talk about the pluses of digital planning too!

If you have a niche need or require a certain organisation tool, the chances are that someone’s already built an online version for you. You’ll find people selling templates to use with the most popular planning platforms, coaches ready to share their planning techniques and countless apps that make planning on the go as easy as tapping a few buttons on your phone.

Enjoy the convenience and portability of digital planners

Most planning tools are in the cloud. Which means you can log in wherever you are in the world.

Left your laptop at home? No problem, just log into the mobile version on your phone. There’s an inherent convenience that comes with a digital planner that’s always accessible.

Louise explains that she uses a hybrid approach, with a digital planner alongside her preferred paper option.

“While I do use a digital calendar as I benefit from how it can sync across devices, I love paper products from both a productivity and pleasure perspective.

I get a lot of joy from opening up the fresh new page and setting out goals and plans for the next year. A new planner feels like new potential and possibilities.”

A man working on a laptop surrounded by colleagues

Share your plans with those who need to stay in the loop

The beauty of a digital planner is that they’re not stored in a physical location. Their online nature means that sharing your plans with friends, colleagues and family members requires just a few quick clicks.

You can collaborate with others, have someone else manage your diary and invite friends and guests to important events. Making the communication side of things that much easier.

Edit away to your heart’s content

Plans changed? Friend cancelled? New schedule for the week?

That’s fine. Just delete, edit and tweak your digital planner and everything will be looking nice and organised again. It’s incredibly easy to keep your digital planner looking neat (because it won’t let you use it in any other way!).

Follow a system to keep yourself moving forwards

Most digital planners are tied to a specific system. And many of them will have pre-built templates available to help you use them.

If you’re someone who craves structure in a certain area of your life, then digital systems like these could be a really great option for you. Especially if you’re not quite sure where to start.

Harness the power of automation

How many times have you lost track of time, leaving you running way too late for an important meeting?

This is where we all save a wave of thanks for the person who created automated reminders. If you’re already sitting at your desk, working away on a laptop, a discreet pop-up telling you that it’s time to leave can make all the difference.

Integrate your plans with your work

Digital planners can be especially useful when it comes to organising your work life. If there’s a certain document you’ll be running through in a meeting, you can add a link to it straight from your calendar.

Project management suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

An iPad showing a digital weekly planner, next to an Apple Pencil

Paper vs digital planners: our two cents

As you can see by now, paper planners are so much more than something pretty on your desk (although they’re great for that too). Your paper planners provide order in a chaotic world, help you simplify your to-do list, boost your productivity and create a powerful sense of accomplishment.

Whilst digital planners offer flexibility, collaboration and the ultimate in portability. If we’re honest, there is no “perfect planner”. There’s only the perfect planner for you. And that can be digital or paper, or it might well be a hybrid of them both.

Your paper planner awaits…