Doesn’t it seem like, lately, we are hearing a lot about “ol’ school”, pen-and-paper planners? These sleek notebooks with intricate systems promise to make us more productive, more likely to reach our goals, more creative, and more connected.
I am writing this blog from my work computer (a nice MacBook Pro). In my lap is my fancy, schmancy (and also giant) Motorola smartphone. And on my nightstand is my awesome personal laptop (a Dell 2-in-1). And thanks to the (overreaching) power of Google, all of my important information from all of these devices is more or less synchronized. And yet, right here next to my chair, I have a sketch notebook that I use for my Bullet Journal personal planner. Why?
Why are traditional paper planners making a comeback?
I have a theory but first a few considerations:
- This is good marketing. It’s actually hard to tell if there’s truly a resurgence of paper planners or if the Internet has just been watching me closely enough to know that I like paper, I like journals, and I’m an Xennial. And so, I see a lot of ads relevant to those likes.
- People of my parents’ generation and older never stopped using paper planners. I know that’s a generalization, but, generally speaking, those generations did not abandon their planners and pocket calendars when they got phones and laptops.
- People in the younger generations really don’t write things down much. They are digital natives. They really know no other reality. Again, there are exceptions, but there’s not a sense of nostalgia about doing things another way (something I think Xennials have).
With these things in mind, I think that the increasing popularity of paper planners is a result of older millenials caught between an analog past and digital future and trying to get back in touch with their humanity through personal, tactile experiences.
It’s true that writing by hand has advantages in terms of cognition. Research suggests that we synthesize and retain information better when we write by hand. When it comes to to-do lists, appointments, and quick notes, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. (There are tons of articles out there about this!)
But what I think is happening underneath all of that is a sort of angst about just how digital our lives have become and a sense of loss. Analog planners are an attempt at reclamation. We want to express our own creativity, not just poke info into a calendar event template. We want to dial down distractions, not compete with pop-up notifications while trying to write down our to-do list. We want to have something that is uniquely ours, not the exact same thing as every other smartphone user. We want to do something with our hands besides push buttons. We want a way to be contemplative without being monastic. We want to feel like we have direction and achievement in a world of constant change and increasing disconnection.
I think analog planners offer to take us back to a simpler time in our lives while helping us cope with the complexity of the present times.
I started using the Bullet Journal system about a year ago. I have found it delightful and helpful. I did not abandon my cell phone calendar, though. I still put all my appointments and events in my phone. But the Bullet Journal is a different kind of tool that has helped me look at my life from a different angle and think about my days/weeks/months with more intentionality. I do think that the analog planner has helped me be more mindful, more focused, and more creative. I also think that it’s only been helpful because I already had decided that I wanted to be more mindful and more creative. Ultimately, we all still have to do the hard work of deciding what kind of person we want to be and what we want to accomplish in life. Then you get to choose which tools are most useful for those aims.