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Want To Plan More Effectively? Try Using Paper, Study Says

Paper users "developed higher quality plans and fulfilled them at a higher success rate than their counterparts who used mobile phones.”

Throughout 2022, one of the top pieces of advice I’ve heard over and over again from CEOs, coaches and consultants alike is the absolute necessity for leaders to take more control over their calendars. So as we close out the year, here’s a contrarian idea to noodle over your holiday break: Maybe it’s time to put away the phone and pull out the paper again.

Heresy, right? Why on Earth would someone return to the pre-digital age for planning out their time or constructing plans? Well, for one thing, using paper may work better, at least when it comes to actually getting things done.

In research released earlier this year, Columbia Business School Professor Vicki Morwitz together with Drexel University LeBow College of Business Professor Yanliu Huang and California State University Fullerton Professor Zhen Yang found that people who used paper calendars “developed higher quality plans and fulfilled them at a higher success rate than their counterparts who used mobile phones.”

The professors tracked a hundred-plus undergrads, assigned randomly to use either a paper diary or the calendar on their phone, to see which group got their plans accomplished more completely. Surprisingly, the paper pushers nailed their work at a far higher rate than their digital pals. In another experiment they tracked 450 people working on home improvement projects, and again, those who worked with paper not digital “developed higher quality and more detailed plans.” The big takeaways from the study:

  • Sketching Bigger. “Paper calendars allow people to see the big picture while they’re making plans. When mobile calendar users were directed to use ‘big picture’ views of their mobile calendar apps, they had a higher rate of plan fulfilment.”
  • More Detail. “When users relied on paper calendars, they had more detailed and cohesive plans than counterparts who used mobile calendars.”
  • Wide-Angle View. “When using paper calendars, people are more likely to complete their activities. The research team attributed this to being able to see the big picture, and therefore knowing how your scheduled events will interact with or impact each other so you can plan ahead.”

“While mobile calendars might seem like the most convenient option,” Columbia’s Morwitz said in a press release outlining her study’s findings, “people who use them tend to be less effective at implementing their plans than people who use paper calendars because with paper calendars, you can see more details of your schedule at once, without having to click into an event.”

Her advice is pretty simple: “To develop more effective plans and increase productivity, try using an old-fashioned paper calendar.” Certainly worth a try, right?


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