7 Reasons I’ve Gone Back To A Paper Planner

I’m back to paper! I have been all digital in my calendar, to-do list, and journal for a few years now. Now I’m back to paper – at least partially. Here’s why.

I used to be all digital. I use Google calendars to see my personal, company, and my wife’s calendars across all my devices. My coaching clients can click a link to make appointments with me at times I’ve indicated are available, without exchanging emails to set it up. I track my to-dos with Nozbe and use Evernote to capture ideas, quotes, article snippets, etc. All digital. Everything syncs and I love it.

But I wasn’t getting the most important things done. My calendar and to-do list were running me, rather than my priorities running them.  

The past two months I’ve used Michael Hyatt’s new Full Focus Planner™. It’s a book-quality, hardbound, 90-day paper planner (diary for those from Commonwealth countries) that follows Hyatt’s proven goal-setting framework and productivity methodology. It’s working well for me, so I want to share with you what I’ve learned.

The Full Focus Planner™ (FFP) begins with two types of goal templates, achievement goals and habit goals. There are templates for Your Ideal Week, Morning and Evening Rituals, Workday Startup and Shutdown Rituals, Weekend Optimizer, and Quarterly review. The bulk of the planner are two pages per day with space for a Daily Big 3 tasks, to-dos, schedule, and notes.

7 Reasons I’ve Gone Back to A Paper Planner

My choice to go back to a paper planner was very deliberate, and followed some experimentation. Here’s why I’m using it in addition to my digital tools:

  1. The D in digital is for distraction. My computer, iPhone, and iPad are full of distractions – social media, emails, websites, new orders, and other work. Frequently looking at these devices to see what I’m to do next distracted me from what I needed to be doing. A paper planner doesn’t have cat videos or pop ups.
  2. Focusing on the important. The Weekly Big 3 encourages me to focus on the important goals for the week and not just the urgent. At the beginning of each week, I write 3 things I plan to achieve. I’ve noticed few of them are urgent. Most are strategic, important goals that relate to my larger quarterly goals. This is new for me, because I haven’t been a goal-setter in the past.
  3. Keeping goals visible. It’s easy to forget about my goals. Using the planner, I plan my day more intentionally than I did by just glancing over my calendar and to-do list. Each day I decide my Daily Big 3. These priorities flow out of my Weekly Big 3 and my quarterly goals. The planner stays open on my desk all day long. This keeps my priorities visible and helps me say no to other things that want to crowd in.
  4. Maintaining focus to achieve more. The FFP helps me focus on only the important things for that day. I used to have a rough plan for the day, but then when I saw all the other things I needed to do, I’d abandon my plan and jump to some other task. Now, I stick with my Daily Big 3 until they are done. I love checking them off as completed!
  5. There’s more to life than work. The Daily Rituals template and check box each day serves as a visual reminder to do well-being activities each morning. I work from home, so it’s easy to jump into work and not eat, shower, exercise, take vitamins, or spend time in spiritual reflection. I’ve been more consistent with each of these after using the planner.
  6. My weekends are weekends. Being an entrepreneur and working from home, I have no physical boundaries between personal and work life. If I’m not intentional, I’ll work through half the weekend instead of relaxing. Each week the FFP includes a Weekend Optimizer to plan my weekend in terms of rest, reflection, relationships, refreshment, recreation, and rules for rejuvenation (which is what I’m not going to do). This planning exercise has made my weekends much more rejuvenating for me. And because I feel I’m getting more done during the weekdays, it’s easier for me to “unplug” on the weekends.
  7. Capturing the learning. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day I spent time reflecting on the past year. My digital tools kept good track of my appointments and completed to-do items, but didn’t keep a record of what I intended to do, actually did, and what I learned from them. Reviewing my year from my digital resources, I can’t quite remember what I actually did for weeks at a time. Even though I know I was busy doing something! Flipping through a couple months of my completed planner, I have a detailed record of what I wanted to do, did, and what I learned from it. 

The planner is my priority-setting toolkit. I still keep digital calendars, appointment scheduler, and to-do list (for future things). I write sure-thing events into the planner weeks ahead of time. The day-to-day appointments I’ll write in each day or week. These appointment no longer run me. Using the planner, I’ve created priorities, keep them visible, and achieve them more frequently.

The Full Focus Planner™ includes a dozen videos where Michael Hyatt explains how to set goals, stay motivated and focused, and use each aspect of the planner. I’m using Pilot FriXion erasable pens, which is great for adding color but still being able to change.

Making the change to paper, I thought I would feel writing in a paper planner was wasted or duplicated effort. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Writing in a paper planner assists me to prioritize my day, week, and quarter so that I am more focused, effective, and have more free time.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    7 thoughts on “7 Reasons I’ve Gone Back To A Paper Planner

    1. Excellent article and your reasons were well-founded. l have recently done the exact same thing using the Full Focus Planner and suggest at least trying the hard copy for a quarter. Love your work, Dr. Keith!!!

    2. I think we’ve chatted about this before, but I have been leaning on going back to paper as well, but the Hyatt one presents too much detail for my ADD brain. Have you found any that are a bit more streamlined? BTW – I hope you are well.

      • You can use as much as you want to with Hyatt’s system, or anyone else’s. The key is to find something that keeps you on track with your priorities. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent takes over.