My Old-Fashioned Secret to Being Organized

This is a post in praise of an old fashioned, notebook-style planner.

You remember the kind made of paper, with pages that you flip manually? The kind that requires a pen to write things down? Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person in the universe who doesn’t whip out their iPhone to mark down dates. Rather, I’m that archaic person who digs through my bag for my bright red planner (always easy to locate!) whenever I need to write down a reminder.

You may presume I’m pathetic, locked in the past, unable to accept certain changes to the world, unwilling to evolve. That’s not true. Once upon a time, I was that phone calendar checker person.

I’m not a technophobe. I’ve always had a cell phone with a calendar that I filled with events, frantically trying to scroll down to find the proper space, edit, enter my abbreviated version of whatever I needed to remember, fiddle around with the alarm setting or turn it off completely, save it, exit from the calendar, and put my phone away. By the time I looked up to continue the conversation with my friend, the thread was always lost by then. Phones tend to do that, I find. (Here’s more of an anti-iPhone rant, if you’re interested.)

I tried using iCal on my Mac. I figured, as a university student, I’m on my computer for enough hours a day that it would make sense to store crucial information there. Wrong. It was a royal pain in the butt to haul that thing around on days when I didn’t really need it, but hadn’t had time to copy down pertinent information stored in the calendar; or I’d have to turn it on, just to write down a time or address.

I switched to the not-recommended “random bits of paper everywhere” method that I learned from my mother. That was a dismal failure and needs no further explanation.

At that point in my life, I was juggling university studies, a newborn, managing sublets in my apartment, and single motherhood during the week. It was a highly disorganized time and that’s when my mother (same as above-mentioned, so not sure why she hasn’t tried this yet herself) suggested implementing a plain old pen-and-paper planner. My first thought: “What on earth would I write in it? I don’t have an exciting enough life to write anything down.” Still, I went out and spent $25 on the nicest planner I could find — a beautiful red weekly planner made by Moleskine. It seemed like a big upfront investment, but within hours, it was crammed with information and I felt relaxed. From that point on, there were no more mad scrambles to find something I’d written down and lost.

Photo: seanmcgrath (Creative Commons)
Photo: seanmcgrath (Creative Commons)

That was four years ago. Every December, I have my ritual opening of the new planner for the upcoming year and today was 2013’s initiation. I buy the same kind every single year because it’s perfect, and “why fix it if it ain’t broke?” I love this particular planner for a number of reasons:

#1 — It has a weekly layout on the left, with space to write whatever’s happening on a given day. On the right, there’s an empty lined page to write lists — wonderful lists! — of everything I need to do that week, which might not be tied to a given day.

#2 — It’s bright, cheery red, so it doesn’t get lost in my bag and is easily spotted around the house.

#3 — Moleskine products are high-quality. The paper feels silky and sturdy. The font is stylish. The fun coloured Staedtler pens I buy to use in it don’t bleed through. There are special agenda stickers that come with it to mark various kinds of appointments and celebrations.

#4 — My now-three-year-old collection of planners is like having an instant personal history. I can flip back and recall almost every event, thanks to my scribbled notes.

#5 — A paper planner is a conversation starter. Everyone is surprised to see it and — get this — so many people say they want one! Honestly, I think people are sick and tired of using phone calendars.

#6 — There is no battery to charge. You can get a pen or pencil anywhere. My kids can doodle in it if we’re waiting somewhere and they’re bored. I can draw diagrams easily, make grocery lists, write down blog post ideas, flip ahead to check dates and times, scratch them out, rewrite, and see the evolution of my plans in the process. It’s handy to have paper on hand whenever I need it.

#7 — I feel more polite pulling out my Moleskine than a phone because I can continue to engage and talk while scribbling a note. With a phone, I cut off all communication temporarily while trying to make the technology do its job.

If you’re needing any more convincing, my husband was adamantly against getting a Moleskine planner. He fought with his phone on a daily basis while I breezed through my highly organized days. (!!!) Finally he agreed to give it a try. He’s never looked back and actually wishes he’d ditched the phone calendar years earlier.

This sounds overly dramatic, but I don’t know how I ever survived without my planner. Do any of you use paper planners or agendas? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of paper versus phones for personal organization?


12 thoughts on “My Old-Fashioned Secret to Being Organized

  1. When I actually try to be a good, responsible adult, I use a paper planner. If I tried to keep it in a phone or on the computer, things would stay almost as confusing as if I’d never written anything down. I’m not much of an organizer, but having the physical book with notes in it is really helpful. I like the red book idea – mine is brown and extremely sneaky (it likes to lose itself in very conspicuous places!).

  2. I find that the simple act of writing things down helps me to remember things. It’s too bad that a written planner isn’t practical at work because everyone sends outlook invites with attachments.

    1. Well, Jason manages to incorporate some of his work obligations into his Moleskine planner, but mostly it’s for personal stuff. You should give it a try! I’m sure you’d be converted instantly…

  3. I use my phone but I would love a paper planner. 😀 It is much nicer to be able to write down an appointment than to have to scroll through my nonsense to try and type it in.

  4. I love Moleskine too – they are definitely worth the extra pennies. The only thing I hate is the little blurb on the inside cover about all the great writers – Hemingway etc – who have used them. It really makes my cringe and I wish they’d ditch it!
    I use a small one for out and about and think of it as my everyday notebook – everything goes in there: meeting notes, contact numbers, appointments, ideas and observations for work and play. As with all my notebooks, it has to be blank unlined paper if possible as I find lines constricting (stupid I know).

    1. I think we have similar opinions! I also dislike that blurb, though I found it interesting the first time, then it became a nuisance because I just toss it out every time I open a new notebook.
      I’m a line-lover, though. It makes me feel more organized when there are lines to write on. But then, I’ve never tried an unlined notebook, so perhaps I’d love the freedom.

  5. I have a simple planner I use for organizing my personal time (to-do, people to call, appointments to make & keep, cleaning, lessons & planning, etc) but most of our information goes on the family calendar. Its one of those huge “mom” ones with many lines per square. Its definitely our scheduling hub. I even tape appointment cards into it so they won’t get lost.
    Additionally, we keep a family journal. We started the year P was born and we write in it every day, usually in the morning detailing the events of the previous day – our regular routines, interesting tidbits, even the weather. My parents started after they got married and now have 40 years of journals – their own personal history. We have 8 years, and will start on our 9th journal in January.

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