Digital or analog? Yes.

In the past month, it’s happened that two colleagues of mine misplaced their respective day planners1. One of them was fortunate enough to retrieve it in short order, but even that was traumatic enough – as she said at the time, “I have my life in it”.

For someone like me who goes heavily into digital tools, these two incidents highlight the main disadvantage of analog – namely, it’s a single location of information with no automatic sync or backup2. Other downsides include difficulty with updating or changing existing entries, no easy way to get the information into a digital format for use in other contexts, and of course the risk of illegibility (especially if you have handwriting like mine!).

So in recognizing these limitations, why are paper notebooks and planners part of my own tool belt? A big consideration for me is the lack of distractions on paper – sure I could doodle, but I can’t check email in a notebook and when was the last time that your day planner bugged you with a text or a Twitter notification? There are also fewer constraints with a blank piece of paper compared to an app3, making it easier to just start writing or drawing without having to fit one’s ideas into an app’s preferred format. And of course, paper won’t run low on power at an inopportune moment.

Those are all of the logical reasons to keep analog in the mix, but there’s one more thing that I’ve noticed in myself and in talking with others. Namely, there’s something about physically taking pen to paper that somehow makes things more tangible. In particular, in sketching out plans for the week and highlighting the “big rock” goals I want to accomplish, taking those few minutes to transcribe them into a notebook feels like I’m physically committing to those intentions – even though those actions may not be all that different, practically speaking, from reviewing an online calendar or task management app.

All this to say that, for me at least, it’s not an either-or between digital and analog. The trick is to figure out how to best mesh them together in order to benefit from the best of both worlds and avoid their respective limitations. I’m not sure if I’ve got the two in balance just yet, but I’m thinking to delve into my current system for a future post both to demonstrate what’s working and identify what could be improved.

  1. Just to be clear on terms, my read of what they mean by “day planner” is a large notebook-like thing that includes calendar pages, space for notes, and even pockets and such to keep business cards or other small items.
  2. I suppose you could periodically scan the pages using a phone app, but that would not qualify as an automatic process.
  3. Digital is coming close though, thanks to tools like the iPad and Apple Pencil.

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