Why I Use a Leather Day Planner Instead of a Smartphone

When I meet another person who carries around a monthly planner that is made out of (gasp) paper I get positively giddy. Despite my most recent post on dumbphones, I’m not against technology. But when it comes to certain things (monthly planners included), I gravitate towards the tactile.

I have carried around a paper planner since college. For four years spanning the late 1990s and early 2000s, my every move was cataloged in that thing. When papers were due, my work schedule, important phone numbers, a list of books I wanted to read — among other things. My planner had pockets where I kept stamps, an address book, and a handy 6-inch ruler that I rarely used…but always appreciated.

My good friend Annie is the only other person I know who loves a paper planner the way I do. I knew we would be friends instantly when she pulled it out one day to check her schedule. We also love writing letters, receiving mail, and expensive stationery. Her thoughts on her planner are aligned with mine:

“It’s easy to use and it’s harder to misplace than a smaller, electronic device.”

You’d think we were in our late 70s — instead of our early 30s.

My Mac makes it easy to plan my life using their iCal application. I have an iPod Touch that I sync with it, but it doesn’t have the same appeal as a cool looking monthly planner with pockets — like the Moleskines I use all the time (which are leather-ish, really). These elegant notebooks were also a favorite of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Picasso. A paper planner is exceptionally good for taking quick notes. Instead of having to use my finger to type on my iPod Touch (and my fingers never hit the right buttons), I whip out my trusty pen and jot it right down. Plus, I don’t have to plug it in at night or worry about losing power.

On top of that, there are so many online organizing/agenda/planning apps and software out there it makes my head spin. It seems like every other week some company or another is trying to perfect the art of the planner. You could go crazy trying to find one online that has everything that you need — and nothing that you don’t.

I also see a paper planner as a “backup”, if you will. If you have everything programmed into your phone—contacts, schedule, business cards—what happens when you lose it? I keep my address book on my iPod Touch as well as on paper…just in case.

Call me old fashioned—I don’t care. I prefer to read actual books than use a Kindle, iPad, or a NOOKcolor. I like to keep little tokens like concert tickets, bus schedules, business cards and the like in my planner. Sure, I could probably find those things with a smartphone or something, but I like to touch things and have real evidence of places I’ve been or things I’ve seen. And I don’t have a smartphone, nor do I want one.

Why I Love My “Dumbphone”

I don’t see an electronic planner or a paper planner being better or worse than the other—what you use is what you prefer. There is no right or wrong. Personally, I’m going to stick to my Moleskine. There is just something about crossing something off your list rather than just deleting it. There is a sense of accomplishment when you see a list of crossed out items — a “been there, done that” that digital devices just don’t provide for me.

Now that I’ve finished this up, I’ll just open up my planner and cross it off my list…

Here are links to other paper planners that you might enjoy using:

Kate Spade
This chic designer has a luscious leather planner that comes in two sizes. It also comes with colorful (or black and white) refills. It’s the epitome of elegant!

Scores of daily planners for your budget.

We ladies love the colorful datebooks Crane offers. And for you guys—they have gorgeous tan and black leather ones, too. You can even have them embossed for an extra personal touch.

This company might overwhelm you with all the choices in day planners—from leather to spiral bound and everything in between, there is most definitely something for everyone.

While they’re not inexpensive, these planners (the Circa Notebooks in particular) are trusted tools of the trade for many who want to keep on top of their lives.

Action Method by Behance
The Action Method has been covered here at WorkAwesome in the past, and these paper products are the perfect companion for the creatives out there who have a lot of ideas that they need out of their heads and captured in a system they trust.


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Melanie Brooks has written for newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites from Maine to New Jersey. She currently works as an editor for Bangor Metro and Maine Ahead magazines.


  1. otomo on the 21st March

    Altough I share your love for paper I must say that the “backup” feature of a paper notebook is hardly a feature on the plus side. If you lose it, it is gone. Forever! While there are plenty of options to backup smartphone data somewhere else then the physical device.

    An advantage of an electronic calendar is also the less hassle with recurring events. Have an appointment which occurs every 2 weeks the next 3 month? It’s so much simpler to do with an digital calendar.

    But with all the efficiency the digital world offers it takes from me some of my “freedom of expression”. I always liked to scribble in my calendars and notebooks. Spontaneous thoughts, little ideas, etc. After a while my notes ended up as a spider web of text and sketches. A very unique footprint of the living being that is me. The digital tools never seemed to be interested in that.

  2. Bojan on the 21st March

    Complete waste of space. I never carry a notebook with myself, it’s consuming to much space. As a men I don’t carry bags when I am outside, hence, if it can’t fit in my pocket, it’s not with me.

    Phone, keys, wallet. That’s all.

    I would rather learn how to use my smartphone properly.

  3. Bojan on the 21st March

    I don’t want to be all together against pen and paper. I still use it, on daily basis, my paper notebook is on my desk, and it’s gonna stay there. No better thing than old pen and paper for mind mapping and drawing.

  4. AwkwardAardvark on the 21st March

    Love this article!

    Yes, I realize that you can back up a smart phone to a computer, yadda yadda…but on the fly, I prefer my planner!

    Coach also carries a decent selection of agendas in different colors and sizes! Since I carry mine daily, I decided to spring for a nice one that I will have for years to come!

  5. Amber Leigh Turner on the 21st March

    I prefer my planner as well over my phone. My phone is great for some things, and even though I am embracing more phone and web based things, such as my recent adoption of Wunderlist for my to do list over wasting many sheets over a months time. My planner is just one of those things I’m not sure I can give up just quite yet. Granted, an electronic version could have its benefits, such as unlimited writing room, I just can’t quite do it yet. And I don’t think you are old fashion, I’m 23 and own an Android phone (which is what I’m typing this on) but my paper planner won’t be going anywhere for now.

  6. S Emerson on the 21st March

    I have an old program from my Palm on the computer and use the reminder feature. It pops up and stays on top until you dismiss it.

    In my other job I use to use a written daytimer all the time to keep track of deadlines, appointments, etc. kind of miss it now.

  7. I used to love my paper planner too. . . until I lost it. But then again that was 2001 so I didn’t have many options did I? Paper planners are nostalgic for me but everything in my smartphone backs up to the Google Account so I can access it anywhere I can get online, not just where I took my planner.

    All in all, the reasons here are pretty flimsy. (It’s hard to type on your iPod touch? Um, you can type it into your computer and let it sync. You can lose a smartphone? I think it’s harder to keep up with a notebook than it is to carry the phone you’re probably taking anyway.) The only real reason to use is that you just prefer your paper planner. It’s illogical but as good a reason as any.

  8. Thera on the 21st March

    Considering it’s coming from the same author advocating “dumb phones”, it’s logical to need a paper planner considering you don’t really have another option in that case.

    However I apologize but I’ll disagree this time again: even if I never go anywhere without pen and post-its (or notebook when travelling), I have enough things to think about without having to force myself to check my day planner every so often (especially when I’m “in the zone” and won’t see time fly), so an electronic version synchronized with the phone just fits me better because I can setup alerts for important items and back it up (hell I can even print it when I need a safe “offline” version (when travelling abroad)).

    On the other hand, it has a leather case, so it’s almost a “leather day planner” 🙂

  9. Laurie on the 21st March

    I understand why people use smartphones and electronic means of managing their schedule, but I don’t like them. I’m very tactile, and I remember things visually so paper is the only way for me.

    If any paper-planner people are looking for support in their “archaic” habit or just interested in seeing blogs about paper planners, check out my blog Plannerisms.com and also Philofaxy.com! Proof that the paper planner is far from extinction.

  10. Camille on the 21st March

    It’s interesting how different things work for different people. Pen and paper still for creativity.

    The Franklin Planner’s a dead link. You might want to replace the link with this:

    • Thera on the 23rd March

      A [paper or electronic] day planner has nothing to do with creativity: it’s only meant for writing down your appointements.

  11. Ed on the 22nd March

    I have a moleskine and love it, but the idea that Hemingway was a fan of them is just an invention of the modern resurrectors of the brand. Hemingway famously wrote in pencil in cheap school notebooks.

  12. chrisbean on the 24th March

    I use (&love) the ecosystem (http://www.ecosystemlife.com/) planner.

    Mine is a week-to-view with dates on the left-hand page and lined pages on the right, which is perfect for me: I don’t need hour-by-hour appointment scheduling, and so it functions as a daily/weekly to-do list–with things to watch/read/buy on the right side.

    I spent months and months looking for a planner at this layout/size. It’s basically moleskine-knockoff (down to the flexi back pocket and elastic band) but comes in bright citrus colors.

  13. Nijat Aliyev on the 27th March

    Yes I too, like papers. It’s more quick and productive. But my philosophy is “go digital, save trees”

  14. Adana Washington on the 31st March

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I love paper planners, as well as books, writing, stationery, and handwritten letters in my physical mailbox. While smartphones are nice, I rarely put any appointments in my phone. I’m too in love with books and planners and paper goods of all kinds to abandon them for electronics – even for a second. I won’t even touch a Kindle or Nook.

    I think I may be in love with you and Anne. In a completely platonic, “Can-we-become-best-friends-and-write-each-other-letters” kind of way.

  15. Matt on the 14th April

    I love me my tech, to be sure, but don’t go anywhere without my paper planner. I’ve got a binder-clipped pad of index cards in my pocket, too, for quick notes. For me, it’s a matter of having something _real_ that I can always access. I’ve never been able to not schedule something because my planner was about to die.

    I avoid Moleskines, though. Checked them out because they seem to be The Thing for this, but I have yet to open one that didn’t reek of chemicals. Don’t know how they’re making those things, and I can’t imagine they smelled like that in Van Gogh’s day, but I can’t use them. I’m quite partial to the Ecosystem line from Barnes and Noble. These are really well-made notebooks, all recycled, made in the US, and a pleasure to use. (This totally sounds like a post by a B&N corp shill, but it’s not, I swear.) http://ecosystemlife.com/

  16. Tina Thelen on the 17th April

    Wow, I thought I was the only one out there who still uses a “paper” planner. I am hooked on these things. I have a smartphone, as well as a laptop, desktop, ipad, etc. But all these slick techy gadgets can’t compare to my dayplanner. I find that I jot down thoughts, keep notecards handy, as well as log most of my daily, weekly, monthly appointments, errands, meetings, etc. I also keep track of mileage, expenses, purchases etc. I know that you can do all of this just as easily with these new techy gadgets we have now, but for me perhaps it’s a “security blanket” thing. (I did grow up in the Peanuts/Charlie Brown era). I find that if I’ve written it down “on paper” it tends to stick with me longer! I know we are all trying to be more energy efficient; but for me, I still need the paper!

  17. Janice MacLeod on the 23rd April

    I’m a tactile journal girl, myself. I tried to keep everything organized in my iPhone. Wasn’t my thing. That Moleskin is a thing of beauty… every year, my sister and I buy each other one for Christmas. The exact one. Hard cover. Map of the world. Ruler. Address book. The works. And last year’s Moleskin sits seared with scratches on a shelf, holding accountable the days gone by… and probably a few bus tickets.

  18. Veny on the 1st July

    And here I thought I was the only one crazy about pen and paper addiction 🙂 Nothing beats brewing creativity like scribbling on paper, even when writing your to-do-list and daily appointments.

  19. Annonli on the 19th July

    I prefer paper planners and note pages. Each time I call on a client I write down the hours, the taxi fare or the subway charge I paid. At the end of the year these are my records for reimbursable business expenses. I have planners for the past 10 years ready to prove my expense deductions at any time.

    I did lose my planner once, but I have my name and address and telephone number in the very front, and someone found it and called me right away. My name listing starts: “Return for reward to:” and I will gladly pay $15-$25 for the courtesy of having the planner returned to me. The person who found it didn’t want the reward, and I gladly drove to their area of greater New York City to pick it up.

  20. Jim on the 31st July

    Is there any way to have secure notes and private information on a Phone, Cloud, Tablet, etc… Apple, Google, Android, GMail, Face book, Twitter, etc all have many privacy and security issues.

    A physical paper note book or a stand alone tablet, is there such a thing, is the only way. To get any programs for tablets, book readers, etc you have to register and sign a contract to give all private date to the companys.

  21. Tiago Vieira on the 17th October

    Im working on tools to be more productive. Check out my website: Papercal.com
    Papercal its a calendar to manage your tasks and appointments in an easy and efficiency way.

    Please leave your feedback and if you want more information just contact me. Thanks

  22. techp on the 2nd December

    I found this article while searching “how to avoid losing your paper notebook.”

    I’m stuck between paper and digital. For calendar appointments I use an Android linked to my company’s Exchange account. For everything else, I use a 6″ x 9″ spiral notebook.

    The digital calendar advantages I need are: fast appointment creation, meeting invites, data backup, file attachments, searchable history and, most importantly, reminders. Software is key. I use a combination of Touchdown Pro and Calendar Snooze. I encounter many unforeseen events so rescheduling and snoozing is often an hourly task. I’m also very forgetful so relying on even the most basic reminders are key to me being successful. I have some grips about both apps but they get the job done for me. In a previous position I was able to get by without the smartphone but I was at my desk 90% of the time then. I rarely allow my phone battery to die— that is akin to running out of gas on the highway! If it happens to, the paper notebook serves as a backup tool.

    My paper notebook is a combination of my implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and a ubiquitous capture. The paper is key for reviewing long lists, highlighting/circling/etc, and quickly getting data written down. If I could carry a keyboard everywhere I go and it didn’t freak people out to see my constantly typing during most conversations that I have, well, I might do that. Pulling out a notebook and making a note generally isn’t an issue.

    The notebook is also very helpful for doodling (I agree with the research which has shown that this can improve attention and encourage creativity). It’s also very useful for illustrations, diagrams, schematics, and such.

    All that being said, I wish I could replace the paper notebook since I have misplaced too many of them. To date, the best I’ve been able to do is capture a “snapshot” of my GTD system in Outlook Tasks and sync with Touchdown and other Android task apps.

    I’m eager to see phones and tablets merge, with re-sizeable/pull out/roll out/projection screens and improved user input with stylus/voice/etc. There will still always be a place for paper, however, so we best keep planting trees.

  23. Christoph Dollis on the 24th March


    A thousand times, workflowy.

    I don’t work for them. I just started using it myself a couple days ago. But holy crap, is it awesome.

    Almost all the benefit and simplicity of paper, syncs with everything, limitlessly flexible — and sure, you can leave your done items crossed off until you decide to get rid of them.

    Web app, mobile apps, and desktop app coming soon.

    But workflowy is different. workflowy is magic.

  24. Kevan Atkins on the 4th March

    I shared your love for the paper planner up until recently when I lost my planner and missed a whole bunch of important appointments. Prior to using the planner I used my phone with iCloud backup, which was automatic, so if the phone got lost I could login with any web browser and retrieve all my important data or I could just open my laptop and it would show up in iCal regardless of which device I used to take it down.

    I switched to the planner in an effort to reduce my dependence on technology and improve my memory. Sadly, it has gone missing and it has already cost me $100 due to one missed appointment since I had no backup. I miss the tactile experience of writing things down and being able to format things in any way I saw fit, but for me the risk is just too costly. That said, I will still continue to compose music with pen and paper when I can, even though Sibelius is faster and can be synced and backed up using Dropbox.

    – Kevan Atkins

  25. crosswind on the 20th November

    Paper planner is better when your phone dies. It’s a dumb iphone because it holds very little charge. Can’t wait til we can replace this phone with a smart phone. Plus, i agree i like seeing the “crossing off” to do lists too 🙂

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