When to Use Paper VS Pixels in Organizational Tools (by a formerly strictly-paper planner girl who has adapted a bit)

Posted by Jennifer Lasik on

 

I’m still a lover of all things paper. I outline my struggles with adapting to the digital world of organization in this post.  But over time, I have come to see that there is, in fact, a way to utilize both paper and digital in an efficient, effective and mostly harmonious way.

Here I outline four areas of organization:  calendar, lists, projects and health/habit tracking and give the pros of paper and pixels, give hints about how to reconcile using both, and also explain my own process.

Hope it’s helpful to you!  

Calendars/Dates

When paper rules: 

  • Long-term planning. Flipping back and forth between months is much easier with a planner.
  • Marking special days. Stickers, highlighters, washi tape, colored pens – there are so many easy ways to distinguish the important dates.
  • Committing dates to memory. It’s science, guys.  Writing things down is more effective for remembering than typing.  I can’t explain the why, but studies prove it.
  • Reviewing past weeks, months, years. Planners offer us an easy way to look up “when did we…” or “when was the….”  Bonus*  is that you can even use the old paper calendar as a scrapbook.
  • When you want to keep events or dates private.

When pixels rule:

  • When other people need access to your calendar for scheduling or sync’ing.
  • When you need to schedule and invite multiple people to a meeting or event.
  • When you want to look waaaaaaaay into the future. (You can look years ahead in google calendar with that convenient little arrow key.)
  • When you are “on the go” and it’s not convenient to carry around your planner.

Tips for using both:

  • Use one method (paper or digital) as your yearly “Master Calendar” and use the other for weekly or daily schedule.
  • Use them to separate areas of your life (like digital for professional and paper for personal – one caveat is that you will probably need to do some overlapping so you don’t double book yourself)

What I do:

  • I use my planner as my master calendar, color coding entries according to “areas” of my life (ie. Work, Friends and Family, Medical, Ministry, etc.)
  • I use Google calendar to synch with work and church teams, but write the events and obligations that directly impact me in my planner.

 

Lists

When paper rules: 

  • Task lists. Crossing things off a list is so satisfying, and having the list in front of you on the desk keeps your priorities in mind without the danger of going down the email or online rabbit hole.
  • Tracking productivity. I use a calendar to schedule my appointments, but also occasionally do a several day “time audit” by writing down what I do throughout the day so I can see where my time is being spent.
  • Brainstorming lists. Paper is so easy because you can add, cross off, connect with arrows, etc.  for everything from ideas for web content to home improvements

When pixels rule:

  • Keeping lists of “things that come to you” at various times. I always have my phone with me, and use it to keep a free-flow list of things I want to think about or remember later
  • Grocery lists. (I know this one is controversial – some of you love writing your shopping lists) Again I like my phone for this because it’s easy to carry in.  I use the Keep Notes app and can tap and x off each item as I grab it.
  • Brainstorming you need to do with a team. I think shareable apps like Google Docs and Microsoft Teams are examples that work well.

Tips for using both:

  • It comes down to purpose. If it’s something you want to revisit and “think about” or keep in your sight, paper is perfect. If you need the list to be mobile or for others to be able to add or comment, digital is the way to go.

What I do:

  • I try to be flexible with lists. Overall, I’m a paper list maker, but sometimes my phone or laptop are just more efficient.  Generally speaking, if I need mobility or convenience, I grab pixels. 
  • When a list is tied to something else I am planning or a project I am working on (and there isn’t a need to share) I always use paper and store it in the related tab in my planner.

 

Project Management

When paper rules: 

  • If you are a visual thinker, paper is really important for projects. It’s especially helpful for drawing, writing or sketching out the “big picture” goals or pieces of the project.
  • Sketches, graphs and charts, lists, brainstorming – all can be done and drafted on paper.
  • Keeping steps or pieces of a project is great on paper, especially if you want to be able to go back and forth and review the steps and what’s been done simultaneously.
  • Analysis, evaluation and editing are often easier with paper, even if it means printing things out to look at them in paper copy.

When pixels rule:

  • There are so many great apps out there for multi-step projects or projects that are weeks or months long to complete. Gantt Charts, digital calendars especially made for projects, even software like Microsoft Projects can be super useful (once you figure out how to use them)
  • Seems obvious, but again, if you are working as a team, digital helps keep everyone updated and in sync. Apps like Asana and Teamwork are great for team projects.
  • When the final product needs to be printed, emailed, or posted, it’s especially important to keep things digital as you put them in place.
  • When you need to do a lot of “in-project” research. If Google is your BFF for the project, it may be easier to do it digitally.

Tips for using both:

  • There are apps like Evernote that allow you to type notes, attach files, take pictures of handwritten pieces, and keep links to articles and websites. It really helps merge digital and paper in an organized way.
  • Be flexible. If one method isn’t working, switch and see if it helps.

What I do:

  • When I am trying to solve a complex problem, I love to put things on big sheets of paper and post them on the wall so I can look at the “big picture” and think about how to proceed
  • I use Evernote (I have also used Microsoft One Note, which is similar) to keep all the various articles, drawings, ideas, pictures together.  I also create a digital folder that has the same name as my paper tab or file so that I don’t have to search for all the pieces in a million places.

 

Habit/Health Tracking

When paper rules: 

  • Science shows that people who keep food or exercise journals where they write down the data show more success in reaching health goals. It’s in the writing – something therapeutic and motivational about it.
  • Just like with daily tasks, there is something satisfying about checking off a habit you have kept (or avoided, depending on the habit 😊)
  • Paper tracking things like water, moods, menstrual cycle is easy with a paper tracker or calendar – just grab it and write a symbol or make an X. No need to find your phone, open an app and scroll through.
  • When you need to review and share symptoms over time with your health provider. Using a symptom tracker can help you remember everything you need to ask when you are in the office.

When pixels rule:

  • Tracking lots of data (like your steps) is much easier with a smart watch or phone.
  • Tracking mileage if you want GPS accuracy (like Map My Run or Map My Ride)
  • Long term tracking can be easier to analyze if you put it on a spread sheet
  • When you need to keep biometrics (like heart rate or sleep cycles)
  • When you need to find out nutritional information like calories or carbohydrate grams)
  • If it’s not possible or pragmatic to keep your planner with you – you always have your phone, and digital tracking is way better than forgetting to track or not being able to remember later!

Tips for using both:

  • When you are tracking something where you need to make a change (like eating habits or daily movement), paper is king. And again, while that’s definitely my experience, it’s also backed up by science.
  • You can always use one method for daily tracking and then create a master list with the other method. For example, use your watch or phone to count steps and then just write the daily totals in your planner, OR track your daily water and weight in your planner, but put each week’s result on a spreadsheet that you can review every quarter.

What I do:

  • I’m in love with my paper monthly habit tracker. It helps me see what things I am committed to, and also reminds me of the correlation between my actions and the results.  (For example, if I am stiff and sore and see that I have started skipping my daily stretches, it helps me to autocorrect!)
  • I track my steps with my FitBit, my cycling mileage with Map My RIde and check my heart rate with an app every once in a while. The rest is on paper!

 

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