Ditch the electronic planner and boost your productivity

Posted by on Jan 6, 2016 in Two Cents
Ditch the electronic planner and boost your productivity

My name is Joanna and I use a paper planner. Gasp, I know. Last year, I ditched my app/online/digital planning tools in favor of good old pen and paper.

Here’s why: After years of working at home, I started sharing a studio with a crappy wifi situation. Instead of letting it drive me crazy, I embraced the sad internet situation and started to work offline as much as possible when I’m there. Total productivity boom!

The only downside? Accessing my digital planner there was frustrating. So I started experimenting. For months, I printed out a weekly calendar layout from Apple Calendar and marked it up with the week’s events. It was ugly, but it did the trick and taught me a few things:

  • As a visual person, seeing the white space in my week really helped me plan my time better than having it in list form.
  • A vertical planner worked best for my brain.
  • Carting a loose piece of paper back and forth in my bag was a recipe for disaster.

Next, I started looking for an off-the-shelf planner with a vertical layout that didn’t offend my design sensibilities. Tall order! This one comes closest so far to doing everything I need.

It has an area to jot down action items for each day. I keep a separate “life” to-do list, so each week I’ll assign a few items from there to the days on the planner. Dishing out that list in easy-to-implement bits has finally whittled it down to a happy level.

The planner also has a notes area in the margin where I write the status of every project on my work schedule, leaving a little space after each one so I can update statuses as the week progresses. Nothing elaborate. Just the project name or abbreviation and status.

Every Friday, I spend about 5 to 10 minutes transferring appointments and deadlines for the upcoming week from my digital calendar (currently Apple Calendar) to the planner. I block off chunks of time (including travel to and from) for every meeting and appointment. This lets me easily see when I’ll have large blocks of time for creative work.

The key to planner success is to think of it as a planning tool NOT a calendar. That means I don’t go crazy filling out events beyond the upcoming week. Since I cross off events and items as completed, there’s really no need to keep the planner after the year is over. And since it’s only filled out one week ahead, if it went missing, I wouldn’t freak out.

I can’t tell you how much this method’s helped my productivity. What’s working for you?


  1. Steve Borek
    January 6, 2016

    Joanna, I enjoyed your post!

    What a unique journey to discover a planning tool vs. a calendar that works for you.

    A tool that fits JG in how she processes, thinks, behaves, etc.

    That’s why I laugh when people ask me for advice on anything, in this case, a productivity tool.

    In my work with clients, I get curious about their world (sometimes asking questions that make their head hurt ;-p) and what makes them tick. What kind of a learner are they? Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual Auditory, or Visual like JG.

    BTW, you’re a great writer. When it feels right, we’d all like to see more. IDK, just throw it somewhere on your planning tool. Whatever feels right to you. ;-p

  2. Joanna Giansanti
    January 6, 2016

    I tried like hell to make digital planners work because it felt like that was what I SHOULD be doing. Happy I wised up and went visual! Thanks for saying that about my writing, Steve. There will be more in 2016. Not necessarily about design though…

  3. Mitch Mitchell
    January 6, 2016

    Yay, Joanne’s writing again. And this is about something I know about, planners. I’ve been buyinf Franklin Planners for the last bunch of years, the Seasons package which means it’s nice and colorful. I really need to use it more than I do though; I’m going to be working on that. :-)

  4. Joanna Giansanti
    January 7, 2016

    Thanks for your support, Mitch! I’ve found that if I make a plan, I’ll stick to it. Leaving things unscheduled means I’ll be on twitter all day!