Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age? Part 6: The Limit Always Exists

Scott Brown

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age.

Check out our previous entries:


Most of us have forgone physical books in favor of ebooks. Of this digital-only sector of readers, many read on their phones as opposed to a Kindle or Kindle-adjacent ereader, finding the appeal of limiting attachments to one do-it-all machine outweighs the negatives.

Not only do I sympathize with those that don't want to carry around a book or an extra device, I often make this decision myself if the book is accessible in digital form. I know that I find reading a physical book a more engaging experience, but I'm less sure what I actually lose in terms of comprehension and retention. Reading on my phone seems good enough most of the time.

I say this to make it clear that I don't deny the convenience that apps and the general shedding of physical media as has afforded all of us (I don't think I've played an actual CD or DVD more than a handful of times in the past 5 years). What I do deny, however, is that the act of planning can be sucked into a phone in the same way without considerable impact to the act of planning itself.

The issue with using a to-do list or calendar app is that, just like scrolling through Netflix of Spotify, there is a feeling that there is no end. Your to-do list/calendar app is the same way: an infinitude of undefined size and scope. It's impossible to conceptualize reaching the end of an app, because apps are designed to be never-ending, expanding to fill the space. You need to add a to-do to your list? You have 50 to-do items scheduled for today? Why not add a 51st? Just tap the "+" at the bottom righthand corner. No matter that it would be a miracle to get half of these done and a more realistic plan would offload some of these to future days according to priority and dependence with other items. There's no need to make decisions like that because...there's a "+" button RIGHT THERE!

Compare this to a paper planner, with its non-negotiable physical dimensions. There is a a comprehensible limit to what you can include in each section. There is literally only so much you can fit in a day, a week, a 30-minute period, and that finitude forces you to make decisions about what you can actually fit into your life and when. It is a direct reflection of how you must actually conduct your life, working within limits (time, location, cost, etc.) to meet the goals that matter most.

What are your primary goals? That's all you have room for in the real, physics-based non-app world that you and I live in, and your planning should reinforce this reality, not pretend that adding more goals and tasks to your life is as easy as tapping a "+" icon.


This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age. Read part 7 here!

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