Technologically Incorrect: Why I Still Use a Paper Planner

It’s red. It’s can get up to 2 inches thick. It’s an almost constant companion.

I am describing my paper planner: my planning/project/time management companion. It’s a throwback to the 1980s when planning systems first became popular, and Filofax and Franklin were the top-of-mind options. I formed my planning habit of keep my goals, to-dos, plans and ideas all in one place and within easy reach way back then.

Even today, I prefer the feel and sound of paper. My pen or pencil grabs the surface and creates a tangible drag as I write. Then there’s the physical action of flipping pages, which to me is much more interactive than scrolling through digital screens. I can add pages or remove them, tear or fold them and use both sides of the sheet. I can doodle, color, jot notes, draw arrows… whatever is necessary to track my thinking and progress. To jot something down is quicker for me than keying it in, and I commit fewer typos in the process. Evernote, Nozbe and iCal apps are the digital companions to my customized daybook, making mine a tight hybrid system.

I switched from using a ring to a disc-bound system a few years ago. Two systems, Circa, and Arc, are the most popular of the disc-bound systems, and I use fillers from both. The disc system is easily customized and allows me to easily pull out sheets and arrange them in front of me to view all at once. Afterward they are easily replaced into the binder.

A number of years ago I started designing my own planner pages. It took me a few versions to work out what works best for me. What I created was a blend of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the Franklin-Covey system and Andy Stanley’s life roles (similar to Michael Hyatt’s method). I found nothing in each system that I could use completely, and was always wasting pages or unclear how to make them work for me, so I creating my own system made sense.

My system does not use week-at-a-glance, one-page per day or 2-page-per-day format. It’s more of an agenda than a calendar. It consists of weekly roles and goals sheets with an “inbox” grid on the reverse. Then, for each day, I list my categorized tasks on narrow note sheets.

My habit of keeping a daily record and planning my days ahead of time was learned from my parents. My mother kept a calendar – looking forward – and my dad kept a journal – looking back on his daily accomplishments. Bits and pieces of these lives that I knew well were handed down to me in their calendars. Those recorded comings and goings remind me of the people I came from, as I suppose my daybooks and sketchbooks will inform my children in the same way.

4 Responses

  1. Hello, Albert: It’s not something I would use because it’s online. However, I might include a link in my resource tools for those who might use it. Based on your YouTube video, it appears that your approach to planning, goals and mission is similar to mine. What’s the reason for using kairos instead of chronos… it makes sense to me, but I’d like to know your thinking behind the name.

  2. Dear Alvalyn. I’d like you to test my Stephen R. Covey-inspired (but not affiliated to FranklinCovey!) online planning tool. Would you please send me an e-mail? Then I can send you a voucher code for a one-year-subscription.


    Albert van Harten
    Founder at **** (name removed to avoid spamming)