The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

I am dedicated and steadfast in many areas of my life, except dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, tea versus coffee, and probably most costly, digital planning versus paper planning. I can see the value of both, and at certain times of my life, I really need one over the other. When I am managing multiple priorities, none of which I can really let go with good conscience(patient care, kids, spouse, etc), digital tends to work better for me, because I don’t have time to write and re-write things. However, it is clearly better for retention of material and prioritizing to use a paper planner -what better way to decide that something is important than to be willing to re-write it? Also, paper is a much more efficient way of gathering data- you can open your Field Notes notebook and jot something down much faster than you can unlock your phone, choose an appropriate app, and start typing.

For a long time, I switched back and forth between paper and digital. I think I’ve tried them all- Filofax, Franklin Covey, Circa from Levenger, various bound planners, the Midori Traveller’s Notebook…and in the digital world, I’ve used Outlook, iCal, Fantastical, Calendars 5, BusyCal, Informant, Sunrise, etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion that some form of written calendar AND digital calendar work best for me right now, at least until I find a good way to remind myself to look at my digital planner and task manager a few times a day.

My current method.

After using both Fantastical and Reedle’s Calendars 5, I have decided that I like Calendars 5 a little bit better on my iPhone and iPad. I already have Fantastical on my Mac, so I’ve been using that when I am using my laptop. Fantastical and Calendars 5 both have natural language event entry- “dinner with Sarah at 8 pm on Thursday” as opposed to tapping tiny drop down boxes to achieve the same thing. I haven’t noticed much difference between the two, and I like Calendars’ format better. Also, both have integration with my email app, Airmail, which is also important. I’m using a task manager -more about this in a different blog entry regularly. The paper part changes for me, and is less consequential since it is just a daily (or weekly, depending on my mood) reference while I’m at my desk working. I write down just that day’s (or week’s) events, and the big three things I need to do that day. I use it to write down incidental notes during my workday as well. Right now, I’m using a weekly Circa planner, but sometimes I use a daily planner sheet from Circa, or whatever strikes my fancy. I’m eyeing one of the on-sale Economist planners right now, partly to get my hands on the enhanced content (“How to write a CV,” anyone?). I’ve also used index cards to record this information- I even made my own version of a planner page on an index card, which are particularly nice to keep track of habits and expenditures.

There’s a hybrid for everyone!

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs, and listen to podcasts on my commute, and have heard of many different kinds of hybrid systems along the way. There are a few all-in-one systems. A few of these are Moleskine’s smart writing system and the Slice planner. I haven’t tried either of these, partly because I’m too cheap to pay $179 for just the Moleskine pen, and although I know some people love the circular timeline of the Slice planner, I just do not think that way. I would miss appointments all the time. I read reviews about these two systems, and they are somewhat mixed, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone with first-hand experience thinks.

There are also other kinds of smart pens, which generally require some kind of specific dotted paper, which our occupational therapists at work like for patients who have traumatic brain injury. I’m unsure if these are helpful or not since I haven’t seen anyone use them consistently. Other options could be a PDF planner in a program like Goodnote, with an Apple pencil on an iPad pro (or the new iPad that apparently uses the Apple Pencil).

Another configuration could be like Michael Hyatt uses: a digital calendar and task manager, with his own daily Free to Focus planner for daily essential information, which also helps with setting and achieving goals (see my previous Day One post). Something simpler, but also great is the “Medium method:” a digital planner and task manager, with a notebook that each day, has a post-it flagging the day with events and the top three important tasks on it. The page is used to write any notes or thoughts that need to be captured, and the post-it can move from a desk sized notebook, to a portable, Field Notes type journal if needed. Key to this method is sitting down at the end of the day, and transferring the notes that need to be in digital format: calendars, important notes (could go in Evernote, DayOne or One Note), and tasks.

Another option I can think of, if you’re at your computer all day would be a dedicated Trello board- each morning in a review of your task cards, you can add cards with times for appointments and meetings in a “Today” list. I’ve tried this out, and think it is great for when I am sitting at my desk, but not as favorable for when I am wandering the wards, visiting patients with residents much of the day. I think the Kanban method (post-it lists) via Trello works much better with more screen acreage than I get from an iPhone or even iPad.

How do you choose a method with so many choices?

I think the first thing to consider is how you personally have learned best in the past. Are you a kinesthetic, hands-on learner? You probably need some kind of written journal. What do you need in terms of portability? Are you at your desk all the time? You could probably use a desktop version of a digital planner or a large desk sized planner. I use public transportation, and for me, something light and portable is important. What do you want to record? Are you making a record of your days for posterity, with decoration? You might want paper, then. Do you use Mac at home, and a PC at work? Perhaps you will need to consider if your digital app comes in both a PC and a Mac version, or at least a web-based version. Do you need help sticking to your goals? Consider a method like Michael Hyatt, or one like mine, where the goal planning is done in DayOne, with an electronic component and a daily paper reminder system. Are you a little bit fickle like I am? A method like mine could be good, where the paper version can be whatever you want, since you’re not planning ahead at all on the paper, so there’s little commitment in terms of the paper version. Another nice option for the fickle planner geek could be the Traveler’s journal where you can swap out whatever planner, lined journal, blank book, etc, that you want, and it’s ultra portable. You could use a Filofax, and print out your own pages every week that suit that week’s fancy from Philofaxy for free.

I hope this has been a great introduction to the Hybrid planner. I would love to hear if anyone is doing something different that I haven’t heard of, in the comments below!

Author: lisayoung57

I’m a Board Certified psychiatrist, practicing on the East Coast of the US. I started this blog because I love planning, efficiency, minimalism, and technology, but am also strongly interested in making life better! I strongly believe that personal technology can make our lives easier, and minimize the time we do things that are less important to us. I hope you’ll come along on the journey with me of how to combine high-tech and the best of low-tech to make our lives better. I love Apple products, and will write about about uses for them in my own life and others on these pages. I am not affiliated with Apple, or any other company. Other things I like to do are read, meditate, drink coffee and tea, travel, hike, cook and spend time with my husband and two children. I have recently written a textbook chapter for Oxford University Press.

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