Physical Over Digital: Why Some People Prefer Paper Planners Over Apps

A woman writes in her daily planner.
Some people prefer paper planners to digital planners because it helps them remember important dates. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Oh smartphones, what can’t you do? I use mine for all sorts of things: making phone calls, taking photos, waking up in the morning, cashing checks, playing fantasy football and paying for coffee when I’m in a pinch.

But there’s one thing I don’t use my phone for — planning my day. Yes, smartphones have built-in calendars that can sync to your Google Drives and whatnot, but my phone calendar is fairly blank. For keeping track of my day, I prefer the old-fashioned method of using a pen to write in my daily paper planner.

I’m not alone in opting for the traditional daily planner (consider that you can still find people purchasing them each December at office supply stores). So if you’re looking to get more organized at work, here are some reasons to choose a paper planner.

No Need for Batteries

Jillian Chertok says when people need something done, they come to her because they know she’s going to remember to do it. As a public relations consultant juggling multiple clients, staying organized is vital. So whenever she has to write a press release or schedule a meeting, she jotts it down in her paper planner.

Chertok, 36, from Queens, New York, has used paper planners since college and plans to stick with them because of their reliability. With digital planners on computers or smartphone apps, there is always the possibility of your phone battery dying or being unable to connect to Wi-Fi.

“I know if I wrote it down it’s not going to disappear off the page,” she says. “I know with electronics there’s always a possibility something can happen, something could get deleted. My phone could fall into the toilet, and everything is gone.

“With writing it down, unless you lose it, it’s going to be there.”

(But whatever you do, don’t misplace your planner.)

The Act of Writing Can Help

A planner is opened up to reveal numerous sticky notes.
According to a study published in Psychological Science, college students who used pen and paper to take notes were able to retain more information during lectures than students using laptops. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

For Tamara Roberts, it’s more difficult to remember important dates and information when she uses digital calendars; for some reason, the information doesn’t stick. But that’s not the case when she writes it down.

“I know when I type it into my phone a lot of times it’s almost a surprise when I see it on my calendar,” she says. “It’s definitely more defined in my mind when I write it on my paper planner.”

According to a study published in Psychological Science, college students who used pen and paper to take notes were able to retain more information during lectures than students using laptops.  

Roberts, 36, a realtor from Lakeland, Florida, started using paper planners in 2004 to keep track of everyone’s schedules while working for a staffing agency. Now she uses her planner to manage her work schedule and the schedules of six children.

Staying on Task

Kristen Herhold says she wouldn’t survive without her planner. As a senior content writer and marketer for the digital marketing company Clutch, she can’t let anything fall through the cracks when managing contributor content. She tried just using a Google Calendar but realized she wasn’t putting all of her tasks on it. Plus, it was easy for the calendar to get lost in a sea of browser tabs.

By writing tasks down in her paper planner, she says her duties feel more permanent and can’t be ignored.

“Anybody could walk by my desk and look at my planner because I just keep it open,” she says. “So I think it keeps me more accountable — where if I write something down, I need to do it. It’s just so much more permanent.

“You can’t erase ink, and if I don’t cross it off that week, then it’s pretty obvious I didn’t accomplish that.”

Unplug for a Little While

A woman writes in her daily planner.
Keeping a daily planner can help you unplug from electronic devices for a little while. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Sydnie Enyeart has a practical reason why she doesn’t like digital planners. “I’m a 911 dispatcher; I spend 12 hours a day in front of a computer screen, and I don’t want to do that when I get home,” she says.

Enyeart, 29, from Vero Beach, Florida, started using planners to keep track of her assignments in school but fell out of the habit. About five years ago, she reincorporated paper planners into her life, and now they serve two purposes.

The paper planner hasn’t just helped her stay organized — the act of entering important dates has become a hobby.

Enyeart uses planners that incorporate fun, colorful layouts that encourage creative expression. If she plans on attending a birthday party or if her nephew has a baseball game, for example, she’ll decorate the calendar space with stickers and color them in. That way it jumps out, giving her something fun to look forward to as the day approaches.

“It becomes your ‘me time’ to sit down and plan your week,” she says. “You sit there for an hour, plan it out, decorate it, and it becomes your hobby more than just merely function.”

Completing Tasks Is Much More Satisfying

After a long day at work, seeing every item on her to-do list crossed out is the best feeling, Chertok says. There’s something about rolling a ballpoint pen across a task that offers a great sense of accomplishment.

“I know people who will add something to a to-do list that they’ve already done just so they can cross it off,” she says. “I don’t go to those extremes, but when I’m able to cross things off my list and physically see with my own eyes that I was productive, it’s great.”

It’s a feeling that can’t be replicated by clicking a box on a digital to-do list. “I think it’s such a satisfying feeling, especially at the end of a week,” says Herhold. “Today is Friday, and my planner is almost all crossed out. It looks so messy, but it’s so great.”

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He also uses a paper planner and is looking forward to crossing out this assignment on his to-do list.