Why I Started Using a Traditional Daily Planner in the Digital Age

It’s not a hipster thing. It’s a productivity and organization thing

John Teehan
Jan 13 · 6 min read

I’m a busy person.

So are you.

It could be easily argued that we’re too busy and that the challenge of staying organized and on a schedule is becoming counter-productive.

There’s just too much. Things were getting lost in the mix.

I may have found a solution.

Three weeks ago I bought a daily planner, then moved all of my work-related tasks to that and took them off of my phone’s Google calendar.

It has made all the difference.

All-digital organizing was not working for me

I needed a fix.

I looked at everything I keep track of and realized that some just needed to be done sometime that day while others needed to be done at specific times during the day. In most cases, it was a personal task that needed a specific time reminder.

  • 9:00 am — Call the pharmacy and get Rx refill requests in
  • 10:30 am — Library playdate for Jack
  • 1:00 pm — Annual checkup
  • 4:30 pm — Pick up grandma. Drop she and Jack off at church
  • 6:00 pm D&D night at the game store!


  • Monday: Finish real estate article. E-mail contacts for healthcare article. Finish layout for WC Fields book.
  • Tuesday: First draft of healthcare article. Start edits for horror movie encyclopedia. Remember to do Paypal transfers to the bank. Find insurance paperwork.

And so forth.

My old method would have had all of my personal tasks noted in the first list mixed in with all of my professional tasks from the second list.

What would happen then?

Well, I’d miss or be late for the checkup and possibly the playdate. I’d forget to e-mail those contacts which would then put me behind schedule on the healthcare article which would result in having to shuffle around time scheduled for the horror encyclopedia. And so on…


Very few of my professional tasks require a reminder from my phone’s calendar. Just leaving the general reminders as I had been doing ended up diluting the effectiveness of the digital reminders overall. Too many items crowding my digital schedule were becoming hard to follow.

So I decided to change things up. The specific-time tasks that go with being a human being with chores and other responsibilities stay on my Google calendar and are sent to me as scheduled reminders.

But my professional life goes in the planner that sits on my desk right alongside my computer. If I’m sitting at my desk, I can remind myself of what needs to be done on what day and cross things off as they’re completed.

And I find that physical act of opening a planner, flipping through pages and using a pen centers me a little. I feel more professional and productive simply through the act of using a planner.

I recommend trying it. If you find your day’s tasks are too much when combining personal and professional, adapting a planner may be your solution.


Don’t wait for the best planner before starting

If you do that, you’ll be stuck with your current system longer than needed.

When I made the decision to start using a daily planner, I went to Barnes & Noble and checked out what they had. At this time of year, most of their planners and calendars are half off, so it’s a good time to find something serviceable without spending a lot of money. There were good ones and bad ones. None really spoke to me as being perfect for my specific needs, but I was determined to walk out with something.

I chose a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill 2020 planner. It has a monthly calendar section, pages divided into weeks, a generous number of note pages near the rear, and some general reference tables and maps at the very end. Of that last section, the most useful is the time zone map. I live on the American east coast, but I have clients all across the country, plus Japan and the UK. It’s a quick, useful reference.

It’s a simple planner without a lot of bells and whistles.

I note important events and deadlines on the monthly pages.

On the weekly pages, I list individual projects and check them off as they’re completed. For multi-day projects, I make sure to note the deadline in all-caps and circle it. I even include a little personal shorthand to remind me to do things like work on a Medium article and keep on top of my social media marketing strategies.

The note pages in the back are for monthly and year-end goals. I record earnings, word counts, and progress notes for personal book-length projects.

So far, it’s a system that works, but it could be better.

That’s why I’m looking for the perfect planner for me.

What is my perfect planner?

I’ll know it when I see it

That’s okay. I don’t mind.

I’m checking them out. I’m making a list of pros and cons. Many of these are a bit on the pricey side, but if I believe that it will make a difference and allow me to become more efficient and productive, then an expensive planner will end up paying for itself.

So what are my personal criteria?

  • I’m looking for something with enough space for each day to not only list my various projects but their status.
  • I want something that looks as serious as I am when it comes to being organized and productive.
  • I need something that won’t take up a lot of desk space.
  • It needs to be sturdy. With a good paper that takes ink well.
  • It needs to have monthly pages as well as good daily pages. A weekly overview spread would be nice as well.
  • There should be places where I can take notes. They can be in the back. That’s fine.
  • A spot dedicated to goals, both short and long term.
  • Do you know what would be better than a ribbon bookmark? Two ribbon bookmarks.
  • A place to keep a pen so one is always handy.
  • If it could greet me each morning with a gentle kiss on the forehead and a whispered “Go get ’em, tiger!” that would be awesome.

That last requirement is negotiable.


Will you know it when you see it?

Start off with a planner that you are comfortable using right away, but keep your eyes open for the planner that speaks to you personally and professionally.

It could be a fancy leather-bound planner with pages reminiscent of an 18th-century ledger, or it could be a vinyl-bound set of neon pages visible two streets away. Hand-stitching or stapling — it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it works for you.

Adopting an analog planner to separate your personal schedule from your professional one has the potential for bringing greater focus to both. You’ll have fewer missed appointments and fewer forgotten projects.

And a personal planner can be a personal mode of self-expression.

Go for it. Express yourself.


Thank you for reading. I’d love to share more with you via my Weekly Word Roundup newsletter sent to subscribers every Sunday. It will feature news, productivity tips, life hacks, and links to top stories making the rounds on the Internet. You can unsubscribe at any time!


How to free your mind and live your best life. Practical advice on productivity, mindfulness & meditation, self-improvement, and nootropics.

John Teehan

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Writer specializing in tech, business, parenting, pop culture, and gaming. Visit for more info and rates. Twitter: @WordsByJohn2



How to free your mind and live your best life. Practical advice on productivity, mindfulness & meditation, self-improvement, and nootropics.

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