Android Productivity

Why Paper Planners Are Relevant in the Age of Smartphone Calendar Apps

Bertel King 31-03-2015

Our smartphones are more than capable of keeping track of our daily schedules, and our desktops make it simple to stay on top of tasks. It’s not enough that this capability comes included out of the box — there is an overabundance of third-party alternatives The 8 Best Free Calendar Apps for Android Want to see which of the best free calendar apps for Android is right for you? We compare several great calendar apps to find the best. Read More .


Nevertheless, you can still see paper planners lined up on store shelves. And you know what? It’s not just the old or computerless who are buying them. There are practical reasons to prefer a physical product over a digital solution, even if thinking of them can leave some of us scratching our heads.

Why Even Consider a Paper Planner?

This question may seem ridiculous, especially to someone of an older generation, but when I was in high school, Microsoft Outlook was already entrenched, and Google Calendar was becoming a thing. Agendas were simply those annoying things teachers made us carry around.

In college, I experimented with no shortage of Linux applications dedicated to the task. By the time I received my diploma, smartphones were more commonplace, and switching to an Android app seemed like the logical next step. The idea of carrying around a pencil and notebook seemed simply absurd.


But now I find myself inundated with notifications, beeps, alerts, and messages. Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more on-screen thing vying for my attention. With so much of my work and personal life dedicated to a computer, sometimes the most helpful thing can be to take a breath and walk away.


Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.

What Makes Digital Planners So Special?

For starters, you have a seemingly infinite amount of space to work with, giving you the room to fully flesh out each task. In Google Calendar, I can jot down an event’s start and end times, its location, the names of everyone else involved (along with their contact information), and just about any other detail that comes to mind.

Not only that, reminders automatically pop up on my desktop, in my inbox, or on my phone. Google Now will even tell me when I’m running late and integrate with Google Maps to calculate the best route.

As great as that sounds, it’s really just the beginning. For a while I used Todoist, which makes events and tasks searchable through the extensive use of tags. This way everything I needed to do or had already completed was easy to pull up in exactly the specific way I wanted How To Set Up The Ultimate Todoist Filters In 5 Minutes So, you entered all your tasks into Todoist but the process of working through them is somewhat haphazard. That's because you probably don't have great filters. That's going to change. Today. Read More .


Perhaps the biggest advantage online solutions have over old-fashioned pen and paper is the ability to sync your calendar with someone else’s. Should you and your co-workers come together on Friday to discuss the progress you’ve all made on the current project? Create an event, add it to their calendars, and automatically alert them via email while you’re at it.

Don’t want your husband to forget the dinner date you two have planned for Tuesday? Boom, you’ve just added it to his calendar. There are no shortage of tools that make this all possible 10+ Great Online Tools For Group Co-Ordination & Meetings How do you manage a team of people who are spread out geographically? How do you co-ordinate international time zones? The concept of working via the Internet has begun to creep into the everyday workplace,... Read More .

Digital planners come in any number of forms. Don’t like Google Calendar (even though it syncs with everything)? Try Sunrise, an alternative that is also cross platform. Evernote may be primarily a note-taking experience, but you can also use it to plan out your tasks, and it’s available on the web and as a mobile app. Not to mention the vast number of calendar templates for Microsoft Office The Best Free Microsoft Office Calendar Templates for Staying Organized Whether you need a weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar, these free printable calendar templates for Microsoft Office can help you stay organized this year. Read More .

Yet sadly, you still may not find something that really clicks with how your mind works.


Advantages of a Paper Planner


We all live and think differently. Pen and paper provide you with the freedom to create a system that works for you. Write down only the details you need to know, and don’t bother even thinking about the extra information that you already have in your head — you get your car fixed at the same shop every time, why are you still entering in the location?

A pen is also less likely to bog you down with the act of actually creating the reminder. Scribbling Meetup @ 2:30PM takes much less mental energy than opening an app and filling out the many variables that come after tapping the “add” button (seriously, why does creating a meeting involve as many entry fields as a DMV form?).



Physical calendars don’t come with notification bars where some alert calls for your eyeballs, nor do they make noise (unless you drop them). They don’t put a strain on your eyes, they don’t run out of battery life, and they don’t come out with an upgrade every few months. Nor do they require creating an account and giving a company access to your daily schedule.


They have only one singular purpose, providing you with space to keep track of what needs to be done now and in the days ahead. Paper planners may not be as configurable as their digital counterparts in certain ways, but these days, they’re pretty customizable in their own right.

The act of picking up a pen can get your mind thinking differently from the way it does when you place your fingers on a keyboard. X-ing out previous days may help you better keep track of the date. Physically turning pages may force you to think about how time’s always moving and motivate you to make better plans in the first place.

Sometimes just holding something in your hands can make all the difference.

Which Helps You Stay More Organized?

As I said before, no one size fits all. Chances are, you already have an established routine. Have you been carrying around a planner all these years? Do you prefer to manage all of your responsibilities in the cloud?

If you’ve found a system that works, we would love to hear all about it. Speak up in the comments below!

Image credits: Paperwork Via Shutterstock, Morguefile 1, 2, 3

Related topics: Calendar, Planning Tool.

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  1. Charliee
    September 17, 2018 at 11:15 am

    I am located in the UK and have tried so many paper and software apps over many years. This has included many of the iOS apps, and FranklinCovey - with the 7 habits insert. But the best ever found is the Time Manager from TMI in Denmark - they have locations around the world - the advantage is pocket paper calendar section for a monthly and year overview (I do not use it as I keep this on my Smart phone) Weekly section for an overview, daily plans with room for Appointments, main tasks, minor tasks and planned calls with notes section on the back of every page. Then a Goals section. 10 folder tabs 1-9 for key areas of responsibility including personal and home and an ideas section. Thens a notes section and spare pages. I love this system, use the A5 siaze, and I have a record of all ongoing and achieved parts with support small notes. I recommend it!

  2. MDawg
    October 29, 2017 at 3:58 am

    DayTimers are good for tracking every business meeting, phone call, etc., with notes. While not digitably searchable, as long as I remember that I made a note about something, I just have to look back even months or years to find the record of what was said, discussed, agreed to, etc.

    My DayTimers two page per day remain relevant as record keeping devices.

  3. Julie
    September 19, 2017 at 10:23 am

    I am perplexed. I have been using my Franklin planner for years. Now at work we are to use Google shared calendars and I am going nuts. Sometimes I put something in electronically and forget to put it in my paper planner and vise versa. HELP! I feel so out of "sync." What's the solution?

    • Jeff
      March 31, 2018 at 11:35 am

      I keep all appointments and tasks in the cloud. (Outlook, Todoist) and then plan my week taking tasks and appointments from the clouds into my Franklin.

    • Jonathan
      May 9, 2018 at 8:48 am

      A Moleskine Smartpen with notebook? It syncs with EverNote, not Google Calendar though...

  4. Julie
    September 19, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I am perplexed. I have been using my Franklin planner for years. Now at work we are tonise Google shared calendars and I am going nuts. Sometimes I put something in electronically and forget to put it in my paper planner and vise versa. HELP! I feel so out of "sync." What's the solution?

  5. Rosa
    August 5, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you for this post. I've found that using my Planner Pro digital planner on my android phone (or even my Google calendar) when on the go works great. Then in the evenings, I transfer the events to my planner before bed and add any other notes, to-do's or events to my paper planner. Using both forces me to stay productive.

  6. Emily
    December 4, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    No, I don't already have a established routine, and it is a problem. My schedule gets so out of hand because I don't know if an event is in the paper planner or in my phone. Then there is the double-booking.

  7. linda
    October 8, 2016 at 4:35 am

    i think both digital & paper systems are good. digital is great for syncing with others & sharing info, but for personal organization i'll always prefer paper. i find it so much faster & easier, and i don't usually forget appointments so don't need reminder notifications. also, i like being able to see the week all at once. writing something down i tend to remember it but not necessarily if i type it. there is even research that backs that up. a paper planner is a nice break from so much screen time and who doesn't love nice paper & pens. i think it's good to use what works best for each individual though as they both have their advantages.

  8. Michael
    September 27, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    I'll admit, I'm a little OCD when it comes to my personal systems. As much as I love online calendars (mainly because of the ability to sync with others), I do so much more than just set appointments. I take notes, journal, and even track goals. Unfortunately, there is not a "catch-all" app/program that can handle all of these aspects within one location. While I still use the online calendar, my main record is kept in a two-page per day At-A-Glance planner. Here, I can track all of my to-dos, my goals, brief notes, and a short daily journal write up. The best part, however, is that I have a COMPLETE record of my year all in one place. Until someone writes a program that can do all of this, I will have a paper planner.

  9. op
    August 26, 2016 at 11:41 am

    When you put your planner online you are giving others information about you that could be a major security breach as an online planner can be hacked. It is better to use a paper planner.

  10. Rese
    August 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    I was so happy to find this post. I started college in 2005 and I was so excited to get a Blackjack phone (early version of a smartphone) because I wanted to be more efficient and I wanted calendar reminders. I use my current smartphone all the time and I put things in my calendar constantly. But lately I've been really wanting to go back to a paper planner because I like seeing my schedule as a big picture format (detailed daily, weekly, and monthly format). I was worried that I might be moving backwards if I went back to writing things down, but now I'm not so sure.

    I still love the way pen feels on paper and now that I think of it, my memory has gone to crap. I haven't been able to figure out why, but after reading this post, I'm wondering if it has something to do with reducing the amount of actually writing things down. I currently write ideas down in a notebook but I also have an "ideas" notebook within my phone. I have to say that when I write things down, the ideas come more freely than if I put them in my phone. When I put ideas in my phone, I feel like I'm concentrating more on remembering what I want to put in there, whereas using a notebook seems to encourage the ideas.

  11. Erin
    July 26, 2016 at 6:28 am

    For years I have been on the hunt for an All-in-one app that would allow me to type my calendar online and pull it up in an app on my phone and tablet. I know there are hundreds of these out there, but I like the look of a paper planner and the ability to customize my planner the way I see fit. I don't understand with technology being what it is we couldn't find a programmer to create a planner app that you add "pages" and features that work for your organizational needs....

  12. Esther
    June 29, 2016 at 12:03 am

    I use both paper and electronic, mostly because of the ability to sync my husband's and my calendar and the reminder system. I love paper, but I can't ensure that my husband will see it, or even that I will open it. The problem with electronic though is it is seriously annoying to put in anything. I use it mainly for appointments. For to-do lists, I stick with a good old post-it note.

    Haven't found an ideal system yet.

    • Natalie
      October 2, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Easter, would you be interested in the first paper planner connected to digital calendars?
      At Slice Planner we have developed a hybrid planning system which allows transferring written schedule to a digital calendar within seconds.
      You get your muscle memory working for you while making notes, your associative memory is even more engaged with our unconventional circular timeline and you get the convenience of digital features in the app. Is this something you would use?

      We would really appreciate if you give us your feedback. And if you find our project worth your review- we could send you a demo video and more pre-launch secrets.

      • Esther
        October 2, 2016 at 11:55 pm

        Would be curious about this, if it was cost-effective!

        • Natalie
          October 3, 2016 at 12:59 am

          Have you had a chance to check out Slice Planner website and watch the demo video? If your curiosity is satisfied, we would be happy to see you among our friends, waiting along for the first public appearance of Slice Planner on Kickstarter!)

  13. Emily5964
    March 21, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    I'm a highschool student and recently I've started using a paper planner because

    1.When I write stuff down I'll remember it better than if I had typed it
    2.The school planner app keeps crashing
    3.I simply find it easier to use

    Yesterday however at school we had the organization team come into our class to check how we were handling our homework, where we were putting it etc. When they saw my planner they told me it was great that I had it....but also stupid because

    1. Only the year 12s had planners (why should I)
    2. I should be using the school planner app because that's what works for everyone else
    3. Later on in life I would hardly write stuff down on paper at all

    Too bad I'm planning on being a writer.

    In my opinion whilst online planners work for some people, they're not for everyone. Balancing it out is probably the way to go.

    • Bertel King
      March 22, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      I'm disappointed to see this attitude of "Later on in life I would hardly write stuff down on paper at all." Yes, it's true that adults can avoid writing on paper entirely if they wish, but many still choose to do so. I've haven't encountered any employers that cared, as long as employees were productive.

      I work online for a living, writing mostly about tech, and I still use pen and paper. Working remotely like I do is a trend that will probably increase by the time you're settling into a career. Such circumstances provide you with even more leeway to do what you want.

      Hold on to your perspective. You will likely have plenty of freedom to choose how you wish to work when you're older.

  14. Kathy Gunthorpe Ashdown
    January 3, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    I JUST did a blog on the absolute necessity of having a planner of some kind, so kudos to you for the great article reinforcing the idea that in order to plan, you must have a planning system. My thinking is toward a paper planner for one major reason - cyber/computer glitches. They happen to all of us and at the most inopportune times. Now we are even hearing of the possibility of grid failures, which would stop most of us dead in our tracks. A paper planner provides a hard copy backup at the least. I personally prefer paper because putting pen to paper somehow inspires me to creativity. The system I use is, but I also use my iPhone for alerts and reminders.

    • Matt Bray
      January 19, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      Couldn't agree more...I'm very visual and like to see everything laid out, not on a phone screen...I like to scribble and let's face it no computer system is designed specifically to the way you want to work so your own little system on paper is far better :-)

    • will
      June 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      I am in outside sales... making appointments on the fly with customers daily... usually in my truck and on the go. It would seem that the iphone calendar would be the best (always with me... etc).. but here is the biggest challenge. When i need to book a time with a customer.... i need to be looking at my week and sort of planning in my head, what will work for me.... tue afternoon? Wed morning? Friday after lunch? A have not found a way to look at my phone and see my week at a glance... while talking on the phone to a customer... if i have my planner filled out in front of me... i just find a time (think about traffic etc) then write them in... digital is kind of clunky at that. Maybe there is some great app that solves this but i have not found it.

  15. mathilda
    December 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    I'm an executive assistant and paper calendars are the worst! do you know how difficult it is to plan meetings with people who only use paper calendars??

    you send out the electronic invite then they walk in your office to let you know they cannot attend blank meeting.

    the worst.

    • Bertel King
      December 14, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      The horrors of face-to-face communication!

      Joking aside, there's no reason why those people can't shoot you an email. Some people are probably just stuck in their ways.

      • mathilda
        December 14, 2015 at 6:48 pm

        yes. . . stuck in their ways - the weak link. an organization is only as strong as that weak link. don't get me wrong, i love paper, but not for business - it creates logjams. pun intended.

        • Diane
          June 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm

          I completely disagree with your comment about those of us who use paper planners being the "weak link". Just because you prefer an electronic method of planning doesn't mean that the rest of us are wrong. I, myself, use paper planning and am absolutely not the weak link in my organization. Some people learn in different ways as well as organize themselves differently also. One size does not fit all, and a little human interaction will do us all good, so the next time someone comes to your desk to speak to you regarding a meeting invitation, take advantage of that and smile, attend to their needs, and enjoy.

    • Oregon
      July 23, 2016 at 12:05 am

      I visit the offices of a number of executives every week--vice presidents, branch managers, human resources managers, etc. And you might be surprised at how many of them have a dayplanner sitting on their desk. Not all of these people are "old", either. Some of them are in their thirties. I would hardly consider these people as weak links in their organization.

  16. Aristarkhos
    April 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I switched to a paper planner too. In fact, I switched to a pocket notebook with no lines or dates. A scratchpad, if you call it that. I have tried many to-do apps but I could never make it a habit to refer to them or remember to add my errands into the software.
    With the notepad. It was much easier. And it has all the advantages you spoke about. The flexibility and being device-free.
    And if you dont want to waste paper, you can reuse paper to create your own notebook.
    Now, I use a basic digital tool like Google's Keep. For basic reminders and long-term tasks, which would otherwise get lost in all the pages.

    • Bertel
      April 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Like you, I also still use Google's long-term reminders (in my case, Inbox or Calendar) for the same reason. As much as I enjoy writing things down, some stuff is just easy to forget without a notification.

  17. android underground
    April 4, 2015 at 1:41 am

    Ever lost your paper calendar and missed a bunch of appointments that you couldn't retrieve from your non-electronic memory? No cloud, no backup.

    Someone should merge paper and electronics to get the best of both worlds. Dropboxing pictures of your calendar pages is not the way to do it, but maybe one day we'll scribble with e-ink on cloud-connected paper? With personal clouds we can cut google and microsoft out of the equation.

    • Bertel
      April 20, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Something like that may not be too far off. There are a number of digital pens on the market from companies trying to combine the convenience of scribbling stuff down with the advantages offered by computers. Equil, Livescribe, and Wacom come to mind.

    • Oregon
      July 22, 2016 at 11:58 pm

      I'm late to this party, but have to comment on android underground's first sentence about losing one's paper planner. I have bounced back and forth between electronic vs paper planners, and have returned to paper. One thing I have never had to deal with is losing my Franklin Covey planner. Knowing it is an integral part of my daily life causes me to be more conscious of where I have it. How many women do you know that lose their purse on a regular basis? Short of someone having ADHD, they don't tend to.

  18. Michael Lines
    March 31, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    i use both, paper and electronic. For everyday use I use an at-a-glance weekly planner (#7611) which allows me to track what I need to do today, this wk or this month, and plan tasks up to a year in advance. I use omnifocus as my master list keeper. Anything that I do not know when I will do goes into OF. I review it once a week on the weekends for new tasks to schedule on paper for the coming week. For me, seeing items on paper and marking them off gives a sense of accomplishment and progress I cannot get from a totally electronic system.

  19. Philip Bates
    March 31, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Completely agree: I'm far more likely to use (and take notice of) a physical planner/calender. It's strangely comforting to check something on a proper calendar or note something down in the middle of the night that you fear you'll otherwise forget.

    I believe studies have shown that people absorb more information when reading a proper book than an ebook, and I think this translates to notes too.

  20. dragonmouth
    March 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    The one "big" advantage of a desktop pad planner is that it is big. I can see in one glance what is happening every day for the entire month without having to squint at a puny phone or tablet screen.

  21. Janice Russell
    March 31, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I'm so glad to see a post on this topic! As a Productivity Coach, I work with overwhelmed professionals to help them created systems that increase their productivity. Having a calendar and to-do strategy is a huge piece of this. It saddens and frustrates me when people believe they "have to use" an electronic calendar. Some people aren't ever going to be as productive if they use an electronic calendar.