Why You Need Both: The Power of a Digital Calendar and a Paper Planner

Here at The ONE Thing, we’re all about time management.  From time blocks to productivity bunkers, we love giving you guys the tools you need to get the most out of your day. One tool most of use to keep on top of things is a digital calendar. But are digital calendars enough? The ONE Thing co-authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan don’t think so – they incorporate a paper planner into their planning toolkit. And we think you should, too.

In the age of side hustles and to-do lists, it can be easy to look at our Outlook calendar and feel accomplished when we see a fully scheduled day. But answer us this:

If we asked you to open your digital calendar and pick a random work day, could you tell us what your priority was for that day? Would you know if you accomplished it? If you’re shaking your head, you’re not alone.

While working on designing The ONE Thing Planner this past year, we asked members of our community that very question. The overwhelming response from our focus groups: no one knew. Digital calendars are incredible tools. They help keep us connected with one another, and remind us of all the time blocks and appointments we have on our plate for the day. But digital calendars aren’t enough. They provide clues but not clarity on our priorities, goals and progress.

That’s where a physical planner comes into play!

Embrace Your Inner Luddite

It may seem like a step back to add a paper planner to your daily routine, especially when so many of us have digital calendars that we can share with others, handle scheduling, and prod us into action with handy reminders. Our lives are busy and complicated, and online or digital platforms give us the kind of connectivity that other mediums simply can’t.

But they can also allow us to get distracted. There are a million apps on the market that help us keep track of our screen time: how many hours we spend on the internet, how often we check social media, or scroll through messages on our phones. And digital calendars, just like any other digital platform, are not different.

We go to check what time a meeting is later in the day, and end up distracted by that flashing “new email” notification in our inbox. The next thing we know, we’ve completely stopped what we’re working on to respond to a co-worker or read a blog post. Or, when we see an empty space on our calendar, we allow ourselves to make other commitments instead of using the time to focus on our ONE thing.

If we aren’t careful, instead of becoming a tool for productivity, digital calendars can become what most digital things become: something that diverts our attention.

Paper planners, by contrast, don’t distract us in the same way. We can use them to keep track of the exact same information – but without the potential pitfall of getting sucked into an hour of email perusal.

During your time blocks, we recommend using only your paper planner to check and see what appointments, meetings, or other activities you have scheduled for the day. That way, you will know when you need to take a break or pick up another activity, without the temptation of your computer.

Gain Some Clarity on How You’re Using Your Time

Here at The ONE Thing, we all use our paper planners to help us gain clarity. Using a month-at-a-glance, we’re able to see our daily, weekly, and monthly goals.  It helps us identify what our ONE thing is for the day, how many days each week we’re working on it, when we have scheduled time off, and what we need to accomplish to make sure we stay on track.

The truth is, most of our calendars don’t help us focus. Instead of assisting us, they become the equivalent of a to-do list. A parking lot for all of our ten million time commitments.

By incorporating a paper calendar into our lives, we can help regain focus on the 20% instead of being swept away in the daily 80%.

In essence, it is a way to help us more effectively practice Goal Setting to the Now. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all of the daily minutia, it shows us what we need to do today, this week, this month, and this year to reach our goals.

For instance, Jay likes to denote his writing days with a large “W” in his planner. That way, he’s able to keep track of how many days each week or month he’s able to focus on his ONE thing. So, while it may appear like one week he has a large number of writing days, he’s also able to see how many days he’s writing each month. Yes, he may have a lot of writing days this week, but he’ll be out of town for one week and in labs the week after. By the time it is all said and done, it’s only actually six days he’ll have to write out of the month.

Knowing how many time commitments we have and what days we’re allotted to focus on our goals, allows us to more effectively and efficiently plan out our work. When we realize that we have Tuesdays dedicated to emails, Wednesdays dedicated to meetings, and Thursdays for cold calls – we know we need to spend as much of our time on Monday and Friday working on our priorities as we can.

Think of it as time blocking, but over a larger period of time. Instead of simply focusing on a set chunk of time during the day, it gives us the opportunity to plan out how those chunks of time function throughout our week, month, and year.

Avoid a False Sense of Productivity

We get it: there’s nothing quite like checking off a box on a list of things you need to do. And digital calendars are full of things to do. When we go to every meeting and check off every box, it can be easy to feel like we’ve been productive and accomplished something. But the reality is, it’s a false sense of productivity.

There’s a difference between getting things done and getting the things done that matter most. The important thing to focus on are the activities that are priorities.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a great metric by which to measure whether or not an activity on your digital calendar is a priority or just an activity.

The Eisenhower matrix is designed to help you figure out what work deserves your immediate and undivided attention. In essence, it helps us sort through and find our priority. Quadrant one and two are where our most important and time sensitive things are housed. While quadrant three and four are reserved for the less important, less immediate tasks that take up our time. If you get a request about the huge project your team is presenting at the end of the week – that is both urgent and important, and should be put in quadrant one.

A digital calendar doesn’t differentiate between what is an important task, worthy of quadrants one or two, and what isn’t. But you can be – and a paper planner can help.

Take some time at the beginning of each week and look at your calendar. What activities fall into quadrants one and two? Write those down in your paper planner. That way, when you’re looking over your week you’ll have a greater sense of what does and doesn’t need to get done.

The world of computer screens and paper notebooks don’t have to live separately – they can coexist. In fact, using both can help us become far more effective at time management. What kind of planners or digital calendars do you use to help keep track of your ONE thing? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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