Digital Planner or Paper Planner – How To Use Both Effectively

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If you are torn between using a digital planner or a paper planner – I have good news! It doesn’t have to be a tough choice. You can use both effectively, as long as you have a plan.

The risk you run by using two planners is that you might miss an important appointment or event.

To use both calendars together effectively you must do two things:

  • have a system and
  • designate a master calendar.

Let’s take a closer look at how to handle it.

Problems with Using Both a Paper and a Digital Calendar

Once upon a time, everyone carried around some sort of a paper planner to help them stay organized.

And then smartphones happened.

Without even realizing it, our phones became our calendars.

Smartphones should have made life easier, but for instead they actually created confusion.

You weren’t quite ready to ditch the paper planner for the electronic one.

But using both created a lot of duplication of effort.

In fact, it made you feel more disorganized.

How many times have you panicked because you just know you are missing something important but you don’t know what?

It’s an awful feeling.

Did you enter that appointment in your phone, or did you write it down in your planner?

Paper Calendar Pros

It may seem that the logical solution would be to choose just one – a digital planner or a paper planner.

But I find that using just one is really hard to do.

I always have my phone with me, but I am a paper person at heart.

There is just something wonderful that happens when you put pen to paper.

When you jot down ideas and notes you can transform a busy, jumbled day into an orderly set of tasks.

According to this article in the NYPost:

a new study has revealed that pen and paper are more effective for those who hope to commit information to memory

And that study is only one of many that support those findings.

Digital Planner Pros

On the other hand, having a digital planner is certainly convenient.

For one thing, you usually always have it with you when you are on the go because it is part of your phone, and it is not bulky like a paper planner.

You also don’t need a pen on hand to enter information.

If you have to change an appointment you simply change the date – or drag and drop. So, you don’t have to cross anything out.

And it is “free” – well sort of. You have to buy your device but the calendar app is included.

If you can’t choose just one, then why not use both?

You can avoid the pitfalls by creating a reliable system for your planning and important information.

Create a Reliable Planning System Using Both

It seems a little odd that you need a plan for making a plan – but this step is essential.

Basically, you are creating a system.

Designate a Master Calendar

Either your digital calendar or your paper calendar will be your Master calendar.

It doesn’t matter which one – but YOU NEED TO BE CLEAR on which one you choose.

I am emphasizing that because you will enter all your appointments and events on your Master Calendar first – no matter what!

In most cases, your Master calendar will be your digital calendar because you always have it with you. But if you prefer to carry your paper calendar then you can choose that one instead.

This is where you will enter anything and everything with a time sensitive deadline.

Here are some examples:

  • actual appointments – doctors, clients, lunch dates, etc.
  • birthdays
  • kids activities and schedules
  • work projects and deadlines
  • vacations
  • due dates of bills
  • expiration dates that you keep track of.

Everything goes on this Master calendar.

This is the place you will go to first when you need to schedule out your day.

Your Other Calendar is Your Supporting Calendar

I use a paper calendar as my supporting calendar.

For my paper calendar I usually use an Erin Condren LifePlanner with an hourly layout or the Erin Condren Daily Duo (you can see my Erin Condren Life Planner Review here.)

It doesn’t matter what type of planner you choose but I find it most useful to have a space where I can plan my day on an hourly basis.

Time Block Your Day in Your Paper Calendar

Every morning sit down with these 3 things to map out your day:

  1. your paper planner
  2. your digital calendar
  3. your “to-do” list (You can either use a Notes page in your paper planner or a to do list app for this).

First, fill in the time slots on your paper planner with your non-negotiable appointments from your digital planner.

This will leave you with a lot of time gaps in between the things you need to do or the places that you have to be.

Next, look at the things on your to do list for the day and estimate the time to complete each one.

Fill in your time gaps with tasks from your to do list.

The advantage of using a paper calendar for this is that you can visually see what needs to happen and when.

You can also jot down notes and ideas that just pop into your head as you write things down.

For example –

  • as you write an appointment down – you might make a note about questions you want to ask the person you are meeting,
  • as you list errands – you might write a reminder to yourself to take a coupon, a library book, something you want to return or donate, or even to grab your grocery list before you leave the house.

And the actual act of writing something down will help you to remember things, even when you are not looking at my calendar.

Every Night Review Your Master Calendar

This is the most IMPORTANT step in making sure your system of using both a digital planner and a paper planner works effectively.

At the end of each day you must review the notes you have made on your paper planner and also on any sticky notes or scraps of paper here and there.

Enter anything that is time sensitive into your digital planner.

Also, enter any new tasks or to do items into your to do list app or notebook.

Now all your appointments are on one master calendar!

No more sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are missing something.

Your System Can Be Unique

When it comes to choosing to use a digital planner or a paper planner – your ultimate decision should work with the way that you think and operate.

If you prefer your master calendar to be the paper one – then go with it.

If it’s easier for you to just use one – a digital planner or a paper planner – that is fine too!

There are no wrong answers here.

You just need to create a system that you will stick with to stay organized.

In the book Atomic Habits, the author James Clear outlines four laws of behavior change:

1. Make it obvious.
2. Make it attractive.
3. Make it easy.
4. Make it satisfying.

Atomic Habits by James Clear, page 53 Kindle Edition

I doesn’t matter what system you decide to go with – digital planner or paper planner or both – you just need to make it enjoyable and effective so that you stick with it.

Your Thoughts on Planners

Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Planning!

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  1. Thank you SO much for this article. I already do this sort of…I use my google calendar for my master (for the same reason you mentioned, it’s always with me!). Then, on Sunday night I transfer appointments/events from that onto a weekly dry erase calendar magnet on the fridge, so the whole family can see the week’s layout. BUT I’m missing this critical step you mentioned of putting stuff on a DAILY calendar! I didn’t even realize how much I was missing it, but I am. I love how you mentioned the hours, filling it with tasks (I use Google Keep for tasks) and then making notes to myself like “grab the library books to return” or even questions I have (how many juiceboxes do I need to donate to the art show). It’s brilliant! You have made a big difference in my life. Subscribing now!

  2. I agree with this system but I have an added digital work calendar. My employer does not allow auto merging of calendars. I currently use my G-cal as my master calendar but since I work full time it is kind of a pain to manually sync them. What do you suggest?

  3. For some reason “foofy” fonts (like your Almost Practical logo) make me shudder. I understand this is my own brand of weirdness and that they are extremely popular. Are you familiar with any good paper planners that use plainer fonts?

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      Haha! I know that foofy fonts are definitely not for everyone. If you like the Erin Condren style of planners, they do have a Focused Collection with a very clean and simple font.
      There is also the Passion Planner that takes a slightly different approach to planning and the font is not scripty at all. And the Planner Pad offers another unique planning approach.
      If none of those work for you, you could try the Full Focus Planner, or the Hobonichi Planner Book or Hobonichi Techo Weeks.

      So many choices! Let me know which one you like best.

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