In an age of cloud data, with online calendars and sophisticated task managers, is there a place for an analog system? I loved my old Day Planner back in the 1990s, but it was a chore to update. Then the Palm Pilot came along, with its digital calendar and contact list, and it was an obvious improvement in every way (even though you had to sync it with a cable). Now I’ve got an online calendar that’s shared with my family, and a digital project manager that can schedule repeating tasks. Why would anyone ever go backwards to a printed, analog system? What has been lost with these technological advances?
One thing we have lost with these digital systems of to-dos, reminders, events, and contacts is, as Michael Hyatt notes, visibility. With these separate applications and data it’s very easy to preserve endless ideas and notes, but then never re-visit them. Things are tucked away in various programs, files, and systems. We can’t get a bird’s eye view of everything without a bit of juggling between applications, and we don’t remember things because a digital, metaphorical cut and paste is simply not as memorable as physical, handwritten notes. We have lose a certain awareness that comes from the tactile experience of writing; we learn better when we physically write on paper, instead of the experience of virtual typing.
I’ve been experimenting with Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner, which is a unique take on a planner, personal diary, notebook, and calendar. It incorporates ideas from his Free to Focus system, which is a guided approach to goal-setting. The Full Focus Planner keeps your goals visibly in front of you as you consider your day, week, and month. There’s something reassuring about a physical book, scribbling, and marking off that is simply not replicated in a digital system. A real book mirrors our lives, with its boundaries and limits, instead of the limitless storage of the internet. One of my favorite elements is, in the daily pages where you enter your day’s appointments and goals, there is a whole blank page for notes – you can jot down numbers, ideas, concerns – it’s like having a blank notebook open at all times, beside your calendar and goals, and each page of notes is tangibly connected to that day. Additionally, I do find that reviewing the week and my goals is a more serious exercise with pen and paper; when it’s all electronic, it’s much too easy to zip through it. (The digital life is, by style and definition, a hurried thing, always seeking the fastest way out, but the analog life shapes and demands our slow attention. This is a recommended book on this topic, which I haven’t read. Yet.)
That said, there are obvious downfalls to a physical calendar-planner. It can be left at work, or worst, lost (digital systems sync and backup the data, which is clearly superior). It can get messy with revisions and changes – marking through calendar changes, erasing things, and so on. Moreover, you can’t powerfully search, sort and track things with a printed book, and i feels a bit old school to have to consult a book. Errors can abound, either in entering or reviewing (also, I tend to quickly jot something that I don’t remember later – what does this acronym mean, I wonder?) In this day and age, some sort of hybrid system works best, something that marries the digital power of project planning and an online calendar, with the analog power of written goals and notes for the day (this is actually Hyatt’s recommendation, and personal practice).
I’m only in my second week of using the Full Focus Planner, and as a mildly tormented productivity addict I’m still in the “new car” phase. It’s fun, it’s different, and I’ll have to see where I am in two months. There is a tactile joy in it all: in entering things and marking them off, writing in calendar events and seeing the edges of a day, having important goals front and center, and having lots of notetaking space for each day. There are some frustrations, though. I do have to re-train myself to check my to-do app, calendar app, and now the Full Focus Planner (so 3 things to juggle). With the Full Focus Planner, I do have to carry something nearly four times the dimensions and weight of my iPhone but none of the computing and GPS intelligence. Yet I do see great rewards with the Full Focus Planner, and I’m enjoying the experiment. We must remember that, in a digital age, there is a peculiar power in the analog.