A reader recently posed the following question on Twitter:

The question serves as a reminder that in our digital world, many people prefer to organize with paper. As for recommendations, I have two:

Paper planners are plentiful. They all do an adequate job of keeping up with appointments. Most stop there. Their simplicity is alluring. The clean, blank pages somehow convince us that the year ahead will be full of free time with no “to-dos” to accomplish and no notes to take. We should know better, and by this time of year, you know that 2015 is shaping up to be just as busy as 2014. In truth, our planners need to do more.

Our planners also need to keep up with our to-dos. We have those tasks we need to perform. We have an idea in mind of the day we want to accomplish each. Perhaps we even know the order in which we want to accomplish them. The tasks have no particular times associated with them, however. The two planners I recommend have dedicated spaces each day for tasks.

The magic of the right-hand page

What sets Day-Timer and FranklinPlanner apart from the competition is the two-page per day layout. The left-hand page provides a place for appointments and a place for to-dos. The real magic is in the right-hand page. This page is where you take notes from phone calls and meetings, and take notes about anything which comes up during the day. This page takes the place of the memo pad that lives by the phone, sticky notes, random slips of paper, and your memory.

Without any re-writing or filing, the notes you write on this page serve as a permanent record of your interactions. In the days when I used a paper planner in my role as a school administrator, the right-hand page was gold. All educators have been told, “You need to document,” yet nobody ever told us how. The right-hand page of the paper planner supplied the how. Most of what is written will never be referred to again. On a day-to-day basis, you never know what conversation seemed insignificant at the time, yet turns into a nasty problem several days, weeks, or even months later. Memories fade. Ink lasts.

Sometimes, you know you will need the notes, and you know exactly when you will need them. As you meet with a colleague, you take notes. You will meet again in two weeks, with the subject of the meeting being what progress had been made on the topics discussed today. What can you do today to make sure two weeks from now you will be looking at these notes?

Without that planner and its right-hand page, we wind up taking notes on the first convenient piece of paper, and those notes are nowhere to be found later. With the right-hand page, today’s notes are trapped on today’s page. If the follow-up meeting is in two weeks, flip ahead two weeks in the planner, enter the appointment, and in parentheses add the date you took the notes. Two weeks from now, seeing the notation in parentheses sends you back to the exact page where the notes had been taken.

While I wish I could take credit for the use of the right-hand page of the paper planner, credit goes to Dr. Charles Hobbs who authored the book Time Power. This 1987 publication was a virtual textbook on how to use a paper planner effectively.

The challenge after going digital

In 2001, I moved from the paper planner to a Palm synced to Outlook. While the calendar and task aspects of the digital system were instant hits for me, I missed my right-hand page. A good system of documenting daily interactions became elusive. I later adopted a paper journal, which served the exact same purpose as my trusted right-hand page. This post goes into more depth about the paper journal. Only in the last couple of years have I become comfortable with a digital system for taking notes.

Don’t accept a substitute

Once upon a time, Day-Timer and Franklin sold their products through their catalogs only. Franklin began to open stores in large cities. You could not walk into an office supply store and buy one of these products. Instead, you bought a system, and you bought it directly fro the company. Over time, both planners began to appear in the large office supply chains. The products offered there morphed into simplified versions…too simplified. We began to see versions of these planners with no right-hand page. The very thing that made them different from all of the rest began to go by the wayside. If you are looking to buy a paper planner, stick ones the ones recommended in this post.

What is you preference? Do you organize digitally or on paper? Leave a comment below.