What Works? High Tech or Paper and Pencil?


High Tech or Paper & Pencil?

High Tech or Paper & Pencil?

When you are trying to stay organized and on top of things, what works best for you: high tech or paper and pencil?

If you’re like me, you probably use a combination of both.

Or to be more accurate – you’re constantly looking for the perfect planner or app that will finally work for you.

Let’s get real: there is no perfect anything.

I find that when I need to work something out, paper and pencil works better for me. For instance, for the past 7 months I’ve been helping my daughter plan her wedding. That takes a LOT of paper and pencil.

I’ve also been trying to get in the habit of keeping my calendar on my phone although I do find it a little difficult. I feel a little awkward trying to put my next appointment in the calendar on my phone while I’m standing there at the doctor’s office or hair salon or whatever.

The nice thing about using your phone for things like that is that you can set reminders and alarms, which is really helpful if you happen to have ADHD.

However, the act of actually writing things down helps you to remember them in a way that typing them into your phone does not.

According to Lifehacker, your thoughts have more freedom to express themselves when you are using pen and paper, while technology serves to distract you. (We know a thing or two about distraction…)

Writing stimulates a certain group of brain cells that puts more importance on what you’re writing down, which results in your being more likely to remember it.

Writing also engages the brain more effectively than typing. When you write, you are actually creating the letters and words, connecting shapes together to make sense.

When you type, you are merely touching a bunch of similar looking keys, if you look at the keyboard at all. And of course, typing produces uniform looking letters. No creativity is involved.

So – back to the question – high tech or paper and pencil?

Ultimately each of us has to find our own solution, and for some of us, that might mean more than one.

I personally love planners. Currently I have four (!). One is for my blog, one is my Happy Planner, which I love for it’s colorful pages, stickers, ability to add and remove pages, and just plain cuteness, but it’s way too big to carry around with me, which is why I bought a smaller, less cute one from Target. The fourth planner looked promising at the beginning of the year – lots of deep thought questions to help you set goals and reach them, but it was just too much work.

My Happy Planner

My Happy Planner

Planners also let me indulge my other addiction: pens and markers. I bought the $40 pack of all the colors Sharpies and recently scored 100 gel pens from Costco for $20.

Color and creativity help us remember things more effectively too. We ADDers are very creative and respond to playful things. We’ve still got a bit of our childlike spirit and I like that and cherish it.

Of course, there are valid points to taking advantage of high tech and all it has to offer.

I like the idea of having my calendar on my phone. I use Google and I like that I get an email each day telling me what’s on my schedule.

I also use If This Then That (IFTT). You can set it up to do all sorts of things, like automatically send a picture you post to Dropbox. One of my favorite (silly) ways I use it is to let me know when the weather is going to be bad the next day.

It’s all a matter of what works for you.

One of the things I’ve been telling people for years is to never use more than one calendar because it eliminates mistakes. If you have a family calendar, a work calendar, one in your planner, and one on your phone, it’s easy to mess things up.

I understand the principle of it, and I agree, but to be honest, I don’t follow it. I double check both to make sure they match, but sometimes things get mixed up anyway. And besides, no matter how much I try, I just can’t get my family to check my calendar – my planner stays home almost all of the time – before they make a commitment that involves me.

We do the best we can, and always look for better.

So tell me, what do you use? Paper? High tech? Or both?


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About Brenda Nicholson

I am an ADHD Expert, Coach, and Consultant. I want you to learn how to celebrate your life with ADHD too.


  1. I use both too. However, I don’t worry about remembering appointments in my calendar. I don’t have to! My phone is like an “external hard drive” for my brain. It’s where I store appointments, contact names, numbers, and emails. That frees up space on my brain for processing(RAM). In this complex world, people in their 40s need more disk space to function day to day. (The receptionist at the Dr.’s office can wait!)

  2. calmingourcrazy says:

    I am absolutely a combination of both. Throughout my education, and ADD skill tutoring as a child, I was taught to always copy what I want to remember. I can remember being in class and people looking at me taking notes from text books asking “Why are you writing the same exact thing down?” for me then, and to this day still in my professional life, I endlessly copy and recopy.

    I do wish I could be more digital – that’s something I’m working on. I’ve tried apps like Cozi but go strong for a while then fizzle. I now have an iWatch and it’s been AWESOME for managing my ADD at work – I set alarms and I love that I get buzzing for my texts and calls. It allows me to screen carefully and keep focused on what I’m doing (and not going down the rabbit hole of my phone!)

  3. I’m still struggling with finding the right tools that work for me. I would love to hear more about your iWatch; I’ve been wondering if it would be worth it.

  4. You know, I used to use a Palm Pilot way back in the day and relied on it for everything and it really worked for me. So now why do I struggle with doing the same with my phone? I’ll keep trying, however, because you’re right – it is a valuable tool and I ought to use it more.

  5. Brenda, I have to admit – I’m sure there a million things I can do with my Apple Watch. But I don’t do any of them. I really bought it as my go-between to keep my phone out of my hands and to concentrate on the task at hand. I screen only calls and texts on it. I do like the activity part – it’s helped me ditch the fitbits that have cluttered up my drawers. I have actually linked my budgeting software to it, YNAB, so I can pull that up and see a real time snap shot of all of my budget categories for the month (helps in the impulse purchase situation). I know there is so much more it can do – for me though it’s solving for what I needed. I do also set alarms for projects at work, so if I want to allow myself an hour on something I set it and move on when the alarm goes off.

    Now, as mentioned before I do love hard copy stuff – re-writing or seeing something in front of me is the only way my brain processes info and retains it. At work I print my schedule every few days to stay on task. It’s just so hard to find the right mix. I would love to go back to a paper planner – but I worry about duplication.

  6. I completely agree with you regarding the paper planner. I enjoy the process of writing things down and I do feel that helps more than adding something to my phone, but there’s that whole thing of actually remembering to look at it.

    After using Google calendar for a week or so, I realized that it doesn’t give me any idea that there is something going on that day unless I look at the actual date. I’m considering switching over to iCalendar.

    I used YNAB years ago and loved it when it was in the paper stage. Now that it’s gone electronic, I can’t seem to grasp it. I’m amazed that you can pull it up on your watch and have it work for you. I may need to take another look at YNAB.

    Thanks for all of your input.

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